Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So Ends a Strange Year

Me on Christmas day 2008. Can you guess who I voted for?

Someone parked my dream car (Scion tC) beneath my apartment during the week we got hit with a snowstorm. They were stuck for days and I dreamed about the car being mine! My apartment is the one with the President Obama sign in the window (like I needed to tell you that).

The statue of Abraham Lincoln in the South Park Blocks, getting dumped with snow the week before Christmas.

With Charles Lewis on election night at his headquarters.

Holding the cake that I made for election night, at Charles Lewis Campaign Headquarters

The special edition election cake I made (my third version, as I made election themed cakes in 1980, 2000, and 2008)

Not much of an entry today...but I wanted to wish you a Happy and safe New Year's.

Whatever else might be said about 2008, it was probably the most exciting one of my lifetime due to the historic election and all the drama associated with it. I'm looking forward to a calmer 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Music Video Monday: Man in the Mirror

Since tomorrow is my birthday, I decided to pick for this week's music video selection a song that still resonates with me, twenty years later. It's Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror", of course. With all my nostalgic focus on the year 1988, why not pick a song from that year for the last Music Video Monday of the year?

The music video is a series of images from world history about the best and the worst of humanity. I'm not sure what Michael Jackson wishes to convey, other than maybe we all possess the capability for great evil and great compassion, and the choice is up to us which side we choose in every instance.

As we move into 2009, I am hoping that all the self-reflection I've done this year will result in something good...namely, landing the job that suits my passions, interest, abilities, and values. Yes, all year long, I looked into the mirror and want to "make that change."

It's a perfect song to end the year on, as we get ready to make our New Years resolutions about what we each hope to change and accomplish in our lives for the coming year. Whatever may be the case for the coming year, I hope that it truly is a year of changes. I'm so ready for some good changes in my life. I think I truly earned such good fortune for 2009.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The True Spirit of Christmas

On Christmas day, in the evening, I watched the French film Joyeux Noel that I had been wanting to see for a couple years. Even though I heard good things about it, my hesitation about seeing it was that I'm not fond of war movies, especially during the Christmas season. It really does take a lot for me to "get in the mood" to watch a war movie. Since this one is about a situation that occurred during World War I, I was even more hesitant to watch it. I hate World War I. It's one of the least interesting wars for me, because I think it was completely moronic, unnecessary, and an incredible waste.

In a political science course in college, I had to read the excellent "Why Nations Go to War" and there was a chapter on World War I. Basically, the war was completely preventable. It was the result of the alliance system and faulty communication. If I'm not mistaken, the sheer stupidity of World War I was one of the examples that Kennedy used in his unwillingness to start a war against Cuba during the Missile Crisis of 1962. I'm glad that we had a president who learned something valuable from history, for we might not be here today if the USA and the Soviet Union had gone to nuclear war over the situation in Cuba.

But, despite the festive occasion and the need to feel positive about the holiday, I forced myself to watch the film and endure the opening scenes of war. Once past that, I found myself more interested in the story and liked the movie more and more.

Joyeux Noel is about the known situation where, on Christmas Eve and day in 1914, soldiers on both sides of the trenches called for a truce and "fraternized" with one another in the spirit of goodwill. The film shows the perspective from the Germans, the French, and the Scots and what I most love about this film is that it is probably the first "tri-lingual" film I've ever seen. We get equal dialogue in German, French, and English and I absolutely LOVE it!

The way the truce begins is that the group of Scots decide to honour the holiday by requesting to their bagpipe player a performance of a favourite holiday song. Since the trenches were in close proximity (with the deadly "no man's land" separating the opposing trenches), the Germans and the French could also hear the bagpipe. Not to be outdone, the Germans sing a Christmas carol and even put out Christmas trees for all to see along their trenches. Germans are big about Christmas trees (having lived in Germany as a teenager, I can attest to this tradition). Not even the roughness of trench warfare will cause Germans to forgo their sacred "tannenbaum."

Officers of the three nationalities soon meet in no man's land to toast one another and open a dialogue, which encourages the rest of their men to climb out of the trenches and meet in the middle to exchange greetings and show one another photographs of loved ones back home. Despite the language barriers, the men see one another as having the same feelings: missing loved ones back home and hating to be on the front, and even scared of being killed. There's even an argument over a cat that constantly walks back and forth from one side to another. The Germans named it Felix, but the French soldier claims that it goes by a different name.

The chaplain for the Scots gives a multinational Christmas Eve mass, which gets him in trouble later with the bishop, who delivered a nationalistic sermon of his own about the evilness of the Germans and telling the Scots soldiers that God wants them to kill "the krauts" for the betterment of the planet. Yikes! Sounds a lot like Pat Robertson.

On Christmas day, all sides agree on the importance of burying their dead and offering last rites. It was a multinational effort. Afterwards, they played soccer, talked with one another, and continued the festivities as though they weren't at war. It was truly amazing to see.

Of course, their respective governments saw this as an act of treason. For obvious reasons, nations at war depend upon obedient soldiers to kill the enemy without question. It's much harder to kill someone when you know them, met them, or know personal details. It's the reason why to this day, giving enemies demeaning nicknames ("gook", "hajji", "raghead", "kraut", "jap") is part of that psychological process of thinking of the enemy as less than human.

All of this illustrates why war is an incredibly stupid thing that I hope humanity will one day outgrow. I'm all in favour of banning warfare in favour of bringing back "dueling." Can you imagine all the lives and expense saved if we had just put Bush and Saddam in a room with a pistol each, letting the man with the quickest draw win? Of course, the political elite would never allow that because they are cowards and prefer to use pawns for cannon fodder.

That many men in the trenches saw the humanity in the enemy on Christmas eve shows how ludicrous World War I was. Today, Europe is unified and it's hard to believe that Germans once shot at the French and British in two world wars. Now, all Europeans care more about quality of life issues and visiting one another's historical sites. It's a true elevation of humanity at its best.

Can that happen in other parts of the world? Well...there is a difference between European countries quarreling and a "clash of civilizations" that is going on right now. It would be too hard for Americans to ever leave the comforts of the Green Zone in Baghdad to join in fellowship with Iraqis, some of whom may be terrorists who don't care enough about their own lives so why trust them with ours? Besides, with the differences in culture and religions, there is no unifying holy day between Christians, Jews, and Muslims that would inspire the same kind of "Christmas Day truce" between the warring parties.

When the film ended, I was surprised by how good it was. For a movie about war, it actually had a hopeful message and was easily watchable on a sacred day like Christmas. I highly recommend this one for your viewing. Its just one more reminder of who I am at my core. All through my life, since elementary school, I've always sought out foreigners for friendship and I truly believe that I'd be most happy in a career where I had working contact with foreigners on a daily basis. I love the challenges of trying to communicate through our different languages and finding common ground in some surprising things. If anything, this film shows the overall decency of the men who are asked to fight in war while the leaders who wage wars are the inhumane monsters to be disobeyed.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Marley" Movie Shows Surprising Depth

On Friday, I went to see Marley and Me with Christine. I finished reading the book by John Grogan a couple weeks ago, so I couldn't wait to see this film, though I expected it to be a kind of fluffy, popular fare (the kind of popcorn movie that critics pan and award shows ignore). Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I'll state right off that I'm not a fan of Owen Wilson. He plays the same doofus in every movie, so his range is very limited. I would've preferred a more likeable actor like Greg Kinnear in this movie. Jennifer Aniston is an okay choice, though. However, every time I see her, I always think of Rachel...a role I don't think she'll ever be able to escape. She's a sitcom actress who can do well in romantic comedies and other fluffy fare.

The true star of the film, though, is the labrador retriever (at various ages). From puppydom through old age, the parade of labradors provides the backdrop for this movie: the life of a married couple through the process of adulthood: honeymoon, career, home, children, and career change. Through it all, Marley provides the laughs and adventure. The movie is incredibly loyal to the book. I didn't think they would feature the trip to Ireland, the stabbing of a neighbour, and the move to Pennsylvania, but it's all there. Some details were changed, which is understandable...but many of the scenes in the book are all on film, including the hilarious one when Marley jumps out of the car window while John holds onto his hind legs as they navigate through traffic.

Some of the supporting characters were notable: Alan Arkin as John's boss at the newspaper. He comes across as a man without a sense of humour, who claims to be laughing his ass off when he really isn't.

Kathleen Turner was a shocking surprise. She has not aged well at all! What the hell happened to the fine actress of Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile? I barely recognized her. She plays the doggie obedience school instructor.

Eric Dane plays Grogan's colleague and friend at the newspaper, Sebastian. I don't know why he's in the movie other than to provide a contrast to Grogan's family man. Dane plays a single guy who has no problem with the ladies (he is, after all, known as "McSteamy" on Grey's Anatomy). He's not above using dogs and babies to charm women who pass by. His character seems to be modeled after writer Sebastian Junger, as he jets off to exciting and dangerous locations like Colombia to interview Pablo Escobar. His whole point in the movie seems to be an acknowledgement that, yeah...single men might have great freedom and the excitement to go to dangerous places on dream job assignments, but it's also an empty life of searching for one temporary relationship after another. Grogan's life is more stable, with the textbook marriage/career/kids that we're all expected by society to have.

I was surprised by the depth to the movie. It's not just fluffy comedy, but an actual drama of a family's growth and changes, with the choices one makes that leads to angst at midlife when some kind of change is sought. If the film has any flaws, though, I would have liked to see even more Marley. If he were an actor, he would only be considered a supporting role when he's actually the star of the movie...the reason people would want to see this movie.

Like Labrador Retrievers, though, this movie is incredibly likeable and loyal (to the book it's based on). It's the perfect movie to be released on a day like Christmas. It won't get nominated for the major awards, but it's the kind of film that families will enjoy seeing.

"Valkyrie" Fails to Thrill

On Christmas day, I went to a downtown theater to meet my brother for Valkyrie, one of the most anticipated movies of the year for me. I'm a big fan of movies about Nazi Germany for some reason. Since childhood, I've been interested in propaganda, as art and as a process. No government in history was as successful at propaganda as Nazi Germany. It was a fully functioning propaganda state and serves as a warning to us all.

The danger in our country is that we don't believe that our government subjects American citizens to propaganda, but I think the Bush Administration totally disproves that naive idea. What is the Fox News Channel but a propaganda network for the Republican party? During the lead up to the Iraq War, no major news station would feature a credible argument against the war, like they did during the lead-up to Clinton's desire to send troops to Kosovo in 1999. Americans were totally shaped by the media's desire for war in Iraq. We ignore the lessons of history to our own peril.

That's how Valkyrie opens. From Germany's campaign in North Africa during World War II. Tom Cruise as Colonel von Stauffenberg is writing in his journal about the importance of doing what's best for Germany, even if it means disobeying the current government and leader. As I watched the early scenes, I wondered if this film was meant to be a sort of meditation on the state of our own government and how Americans should view the Iraq war.

As the movie rolled along, though, I thought it was a bit slow moving and kind of boring. It lacks a certain kind of tension. Granted, since we know the outcome of this based on historical events film, the tension has to be built around what the plan is (how a group of officers try to assassinate Hitler) and how it fails. The 2000 film Thirteen Days was about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which we knew the outcome of, yet the tension was there along with some great performances. Valkyrie fails to achieve that kind of suspense, unfortunately. Even more, the scenes of Von Stauffenberg and his wife and children lack emotional chemistry. There simply wasn't enough interactions to make you care. It had a sort of "tacked on" feel, as filmmakers realized the necessity of showing Von Stauffenberg as a family man with a lot to lose.

The criticisms about the different accents among actors is irrelevant. It wasn't even noticeable to me. I was wrapped up in the story, of seeing a glimpse of life in Nazi Germany. Cruise does a good job, though his persona is such that I do have a hard time seeing him as any character. He doesn't truly "disappear" into the role the way Sean Penn did as Harvey Milk. The other actors are better. It was interesting to see how they plan to stage the coup, using the reserve army to move against the Secret Police in the aftermath of Hitler's assassination. There are a few scenes with Hitler. I appreciate the amusing moment when Hitler praises Von Stauffenberg to the others as an example of an exemplary officer to be emulated.

In case you're wondering what "Valkyrie"'s from the famous Wagner opera, which Hitler had claimed that to understand Germans, one had to see Wagner's Valkyrie, a mythological view of German history and destiny. Operation Valkyrie was a contingency plan for how to preserve the Nazi Government in the event of Hitler's death. Colonel Von Stauffenberg wants to dismantle Hitler's government by having members of the SS (Secret Police) arrested, as well as Goebbels, the chief propaganda minister; and shut down the concentration camps.

By the end of the movie, I expected more out of it. I felt that something was missing in this film and my best guess is that it failed to provide the necessary tension to make me care about the sacrifices these men made. Because I had seen far more chilling portrayals of Nazi Germany (that would be the excellent films Downfall and Schindler's List), this one had too much to live up to. It's a disappointment. Cruise is off his game. Out of all the actors I like, he has the best track record of making movies that I want to see. It's rare for me to be disappointed in a Cruise film, but Valkyrie is one of them. It is a good film and worth seeing, but it lacks a "wow" factor.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembering an Icon

I was shocked to hear that the legendary Eartha Kitt has passed on to the spiritual realm on Christmas Day. What a day to die!

I didn't even hear the news until after I checked the statistical data on my blog and saw that my music video selection for Eartha Kitt got A LOT of hits on Christmas day. I thought this was odd. Why was everyone Google searching Eartha Kitt? So I clicked on her name to see what Google brought up and that's when I learned the sad news.

My first thought was, "man, I'm glad that I splurged and saw her perform live when she came to Portland earlier this year!" I had debated whether or not to go. It was kind of pricey, but she was a legend and I figured that it was probably the only chance I'd get to see her (though when I flew out of Seattle to Atlanta back in July, I saw an ad that she was performing at a club in the Emerald City that month). I'm glad that I splurged and went to see Eartha Kitt perform.

I don't know much about her, other than that she might be considered a true bohemian. She seems to have come from that group of artists/writers/singers that encompassed the Beat Generation in the 1950s. My favourite writer, Jack Kerouac, wrote about falling for an African American lady in his Subterraneans novel. Though the model for the character was someone else, it could have very well been Eartha Kitt. She's the "original sex kitten", as I've read some describe her. She's most famous for the way her voice makes a vibration that sounds like a cat's purr. It's actually kind of sexy how she does it.

In terms of acting, she's best known as the Catwoman on the 1960s God-awful Batman show. The only other role I recall seeing her play was in Eddie Murphy's Boomerang, from 1992. I thought she disgraced herself in that movie and it's actually kind of embarrassing to watch her extended cameo role. Her true talent is singing and flirting. She's an excellent entertainer. She can flirt with the entire audience. Granted, her schtick can get a little campy, but what I most like about her is her courage. She was actually blacklisted in the 1960s when she criticized the Vietnam War. It effectively killed her career in the United States, but she found work in France, where many ex-patriot Americans find a welcome mat in every age.

The music video selection of her "Santa Baby" shows her at three different ages (young, middle, and recently). What's notable is that President Bush seems to be enjoying her performance. How far she's come...from having her career nearly ruined for being outspoken on a controversial war to amusing a president with his own controversial war. She's remarkable, what I can I say?

I hope that heaven rolled out the welcome mat for her arrival. She has lived a fascinating life, no doubt about it. Truly a life well lived. Her moniker was "the most exciting woman in the world." Having seen her live, I have to say that it's not an overbloated hype. Now it's heaven's turn to get excited. The legend returns for an eternal engagement!

Flashback Friday: 1998

For the final Flashback Friday post of the year, I'm going back ten years to 1998. It wasn't one of my favourite years for many reasons. However, in retrospect, a few notable things happen to make it one of the "watershed years" for me. Read on, if you wish to review this year with me.

What I most remember about 1998 was that the first half of the year, I was missing Hawai'i, where I had spend my best Christmas vacation ever in 1997. I bought a CD of Hawai'ian traditional songs with ukulele and listened to it constantly that year. The second half of the year, I was anxious to finish college and move to Washington, D.C. In 1998, I saw it as a midway point. I was two years out of the Navy and had two years to endure of college before I could get started on my life and career in Washington, D.C.

It was the most difficult year of my college experience. The novelty of the first semester in being new to Provo, Utah and getting immersed into Mormon culture started to wear off and it wasn't cool anymore. I thought of quitting several times that year, particularly after the Spring Term.

Part of what made this year horrible was the news report that broke early in January that President Clinton had an inappropriate relationship with an intern. I first heard the story in an article in BYU's student newspaper and dismissed it as yet another example of the paper's anti-Clinton bias. When I went home after finishing my classes for the day, I watched the news and was shocked that the story was true. BYU didn't make it up. CNN was talking about it. It soon became a huge scandal from which there was no escape. I felt sick to my stomach, because Clinton had done the very thing I never thought he would be foolish enough to do. I actually believed him in 1992 when he said that the "problems" he had caused in his marriage were over.

I argued with Yudelka (a classmate I'd end up dating a year later; she was a Democrat) about Clinton. I believed he should resign, she thought he shouldn't. Turns out, she was right and I was wrong. I'm glad he didn't resign because it would've been a victory for the Ken Starr and Newt Gingrich. Later in the year, Newt Gingrich tried to make the election a referendum on Clinton's infidelity, but it backfired and Republicans lost seats in Congress and Gingrich ended up resigning as Speaker of the House and we learned that he, himself, was guilty of committing adultery at the same time as his campaigning against Clinton. The hypocrisy truly reeked. But as Republicans like to point out, "at least he didn't lie under oath.", lying is okay so long as you don't do it under oath?

What truly offended me about Monica Lewinsky was that this flaky, oversexed brat actually got a White House internship. From what I read, she wasn't all that into politics and she had supposedly told friends that she wanted to go to D.C. to "earn her presidential kneepads." It was disgusting that anyone would seek a prestigious internship to fulfill some sex fantasy. Which applicant with political aspirations got rejected because of her acceptance letter? I'm a person with little tolerance for people who don't like politics or government yet seek a government job or public office. If you hate government or are not serious about politics, why not pursue something else? Leave politics and government to those who love it.

Because of Monica Lewinsky, she probably changed the course of my life. When I started college, my goal was to study a semester in Australia in the fall of 1999 (partly so I stay on afterwards to celebrate Christmas and New Year's Down Under before returning to the U.S. for my last semester at BYU). I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had gone to Australia for a semester rather than do the Washington Seminar my last semester. Since the Seminar has turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, I don't have any regrets about it and I have to thank Monica for being such a ditzy slut and bringing dishonour to the title of "White House Intern." I wanted to add my knowledge and experience to the quality of interns.

A part of me still wonders if I'll ever make it to Australia, the country I have wanted to visit since I was 11 years old. Maybe I should think about it a lot in 2009, just to test out the idea of the Law of Attraction for a big desire of mine. I seem to have no problem manifesting the little things, but for a big thing (better paying job in a field I love; published novel; trip to Australia; foreign girlfriend), it still eludes me.

In August 1998, American embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya were attacked in terrorist bombings. I had a political science class in which a classmate was from Kenya, who was suspicious of anyone approaching him in a friendly manner. I understood his concern. At lily white BYU, he didn't want to be anyone's "token black friend." He was even cold to me at first, until he learned that I knew more about Africa than most students and I was genuinely interested in him as a friend, and not some tokenism. We talked a lot about Africa and both agreed that Clinton made a huge mistake bombing a factory in Sudan in retaliation. Turned out to be a baby milk factory, though it could've also been a cover for a weapons lab for all we know.

Professors talked about these attacks in my political science classes, but in terms of outrage, what I remember most was that Republicans in Congress accused Clinton of trying to distract the American people from his sex scandal when he retaliated with missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan. Funny how Republicans are obsessed with sex while unconcerned with a more life threatening matter: terrorism. I suspect the outrage was minimal because most of the casualties were African employees of the embassies. Further proof that Americans don't value the deaths of dark-skinned people as much as white folks.

1998 was the year that I first heard the name of Osama Bin Laden and the network known as "al Qaeda." As I read more about him, I was surprised to learn that he was funded by the CIA as one of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, fighting the Soviet Union. What turned him against the U.S. was our 1990-1991 Gulf War to evict Iraq from Kuwait. He was deeply offended to see Americans in large numbers based in Saudi Arabia, because its the site of two of the holiest places in Islam: Mecca and Medina. As I read about him, I was surprised to see the consequences of our foreign policy coming back to haunt us. But this was something I've known since 1989 with Manuel Noriega, who was also on the CIA payroll until he no longer wanted to do the CIA's bidding, and thus had to be brought back to the U.S. for "justice."

At my last job in Atlanta, a Bush devotee co-worker would often get angry any time I brought up Osama Bin Laden. She fell for the belief among conservatives that Clinton is to blame for 9/11 because he didn't catch Bin Laden in Sudan in 1998. They believe that Clinton let him go. But look how short their memories are! When Clinton sent missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan, conservatives at the time were accusing Clinton of using the military to distract Americans from "the true scandal" of his sexual affair. What makes more hold Clinton accountable for 9/11 because he didn't catch Bin Laden in his last three years in office...or Bush, who was president on 9/11 and ignored the CIA memos that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S.? Bush leaves office in less than a month and there is still no sign of Bin Laden anywhere. Bush had eight years to get him after vowing to bring him to justice. Clinton was in a damned if he did or damned if he didn't situation.

In 1998, Primary Colors was my favourite film of the year. This movie already received a "Flashback Friday" review, so I won't repeat myself here.

One of my favourite television shows was MTV's The Real World: Seattle. I've watched every season from Los Angeles (season 2, airing in 1993) through New Orleans (2000). The Hawai'i cast (1999) was my favourite one, though. The season in Seattle offered me a glimpse of this city I had been wanting to visit to see if I'd want to live there some day. I actually never heard of Pike's Place Market and the famous fish throwers until I saw it on this show.

The most memorable moment of the show was when Irene went crazy because of her lyme disease relapse. Classic is the line where she's laughing like a lunatic and saying, "I'm not crazy!" Um...that's not how it looks on camera! In her craziness, she accuses Stephen (the African American castmember) of being a homosexual and he retaliates by throwing her teddy bear into the Puget Sound next to their pierside loft. He then ran up to her as the cab starts to drive away and slaps her in the face, and she continued to laugh like a lunatic.

Reality TV up to this point hardly got that good. Though Stephen had to attend anger management, the other interesting drama of the show was David having a relationship with the show's casting director. In one scene he can be overheard crying in a conversation with her, and he has been known to deck fans who mock him this way. It was a personally emotional moment for him and he's from a rough neighbourhood in Boston where you have to be tough and free of emotions. Though he tried to seem like a thug, I thought he was easily the most likeable castmember.
Even better than that season of The Real World, however, was MTV's Road Rules Australia. I never watched a whole season of Road Rules until the Australia cast (I liked the Latin America and Semester at Sea seasons as well). I was absolutely addicted to this show and taped every episode. Part of what hooked me on this show was my crush on both Susie and Christina. Never before on television had I seen two more attractive, "real" young ladies that I'd naturally gravitate towards. Of course, Susie was a major hottie so she has no problem attracting any guy. She has her choice. Christina, on the other hand, had a cool vibe to her. She made sarcastic statements and came across as dangerously intelligent. I would watch the show trying to figure out what it was about her that I found so attractive and I guess I would have to say that it was her intelligence and her not being easily prone to emotionalism. Piggy, the British chick, on the other hand was a complete mess. From her hair to her personality, she was annoying on the show and the only cast member I did not like.

Shane was the Canadian castmember who betrayed his nationality every time he pronounced a word with "ou" in it ("I don't know what you're talking aboot"). Kefla, the only African American castmate, found it difficult to relate to the others at times that when they had a task with aboriginals, he actually found a deeper connection with them than his fellow Road Rulers.

One CD that I listened to A LOT in 1998 was Ben Folds Five Whatever and Ever, Amen. From the moment I heard their single "Brick", the melancholy melody just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Its a pretty powerful song that would get me to buy an entire CD by a group I had never heard of before. When I listened to the CD, I was hooked. It reminded me a lot of Joe Jackson ("Steppin' Out", "Is She Really Going Out With Him?") but was even better. I haven't listened to the CD in years, so I'm sure that it would transport me back (mentally) to that year. It's funny to reflect on the albums that just grab my attention and interest over the years. Usually, a great CD will get a year or two of heavy airplay on my CD player, then fade into the background as I discover the next great CD. But the CD then becomes a "time machine" in which I can transport myself mentally back to the year(s) when I listened heavily to that particular album.

My celebrity crush of 1998 was Natalie Imbruglia. From the moment I saw her video "Torn" to the even better "Smoke", I was smitten. Who was this gorgeous Aussie chick? Once again, I found another lady with short hair to be the epitome of sexy. I love her facial expressions as she sings both "Torn" and "Smoke." It took awhile for me to like her album, Left of the Middle, however. I hated it on the first few listens, but it eventually grew on me. However, I didn't follow her career or buy later albums.
I wanted to feature her video "Smoke" as one of my Music Video Monday selections, but each one I found on YouTube has a block on embedding it into my blog. If you've never seen this video and are curious, just go to YouTube and search for it. It was my favourite music video of 1998. I love how she disappears and reappears in a cloud of smoke.

My favourite novel that I read was What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson. I found it by pure happenstance, I guess you could say. I had seen the movie poster in theaters in the fall of 1998 and was intrigued by the tagline: "After Life There Is More." I've been interested in afterlife ideas and Near Death Experiences since 1994, when I had my own "near death experience" (not in the sense that my soul left my body and saw a glimpse of heaven, but that I was robbed by a mob at knifepoint and could have very well been killed on the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa).

At Barnes and Noble in Provo/Orem, Utah, I was walking down an aisle when a book fell from a shelf in front of my feet. I picked it up and it was the novel "What Dreams May Come" with the movie poster cover. I knew from other reading that when a book falls in your path, its a sign that maybe you should read it. So, I flipped through it and read several spots before deciding to buy it. That led to a strange experience. For one thing, I was hooked and couldn't put the book down, even though I had classes to study for. I even read the novel in a few classes. The whole time I read it, I had "the burning in my bosom" that Mormons always tell people that you will feel when you know something is true. However, they meant it for the Book of Mormon, not this NOVEL. But, what happened, happened. I can't explain it other than it had answered EVERY question I had about the afterlife and the purpose for life on earth.

I had such a beautiful vision of heaven that I was excited to see the movie. That turned out to be a mistake. The movie is so unlike the novel (there might be a 20% similarity between novel and movie) that I felt sick upon leaving the theater. I blamed the director for going in a different direction. I didn't like the image of heaven in the movie, or even of hell. However, in the years since, I do own the DVD because I learned to view the movie as a separate story from the novel. It's still a spiritual film worth watching, though I truly would love to see a more faithful film adaptation. Since the movie bombed in theaters after 20 years of being on a Hollywood shelf, it's unlikely that anyone would want to make a more loyal film.

What was it about the novel that grabbed me? Well...all my life, I've been intrigued by the idea of reincarnation, even if I didn't quite believe it was true. Three events at BYU led me to believe that reincarnation is the process by which we evolve. The way the purpose of life is presented in this novel is exactly the kind of heaven that I want to experience. The novel also inspired me to write my own "heaven novel" that's one of my writing projects on the backburner.

In the decade since, I've read plenty of books on reincarnation and learned a lot about how the process might work. Its a fascinating topic that I'd love to study in grad school (the UVA supposedly has a good program on metaphysical topics)...but at the very least, it's something I'll continue to study on my own. examining the year 1998, the two most notable events that affected my life was: (1) being offended that someone like Monica Lewinsky could get a White House internship; and (2) finding the right book to break my resistance to believing in reincarnation once and for all. The friendships I have because I went on the Washington Seminar program, I owe to Monica Lewinsky. Had there been no scandal, I would've gone to Australia. Of course, I could have possibly met my wife there and be living there these past eight years...but, I wouldn't give up my Washington Seminar experience for any alternative life possibilities. I'll get to Australia someday soon. Oh yes I will!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noel / Merry Christmas / Feliz Navidad / Buon Natale / Frohe Weihnachten

"People all over the world, join hands, and form a love train!"

Sorry...that song lyric just came to me as I write this. I think feeling love is important...not just the romantic love some are fortunate to have, but an even greater love...that of fellow humans. A love beyond romance, beyond family, beyond country, beyond religion...a love for friend and foe, neighbors and strangers, a love without borders.

So, for all the readers of my blog (and those who don't), I just wanted to wish you Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday season in whatever faith (or not) you belong to. Enjoy the day with family, friends, pets, assorted love ones, and may your interactions be filled only with the kind of love that transcends all. Let's commit to a better world. A new day begins in the love we create.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Already?!?'s already Christmas Eve! Hard to believe. One week left in a year that has truly been one of the most dramatic ones I've ever witnessed. From the dramas of the primary season: Obama versus Clinton; Romney versus Huckabee versus McCain; seeing Giuliani's campaign go down in defeat while actor Fred Thompson's campaign stalls out the starting gate (cuz he's lazy!); across the board elections in Oregon from the mayor's race to three City Council races; a nail-biting Senate race; Clintons and Obama coming to Oregon to draw out the voters; to the drama of Sarah Palin (still the best dramatic show of the fall season...glad it got cancelled though. Couldn't live through that for four years!)...none of this matches the ongoing drama at work, however.

That's right...I work for a lady who had so much family drama this year that I told her Hollywood should come calling for movie rights. As amusing as it might be, it also made my job a living hell as I've had to pick up her slack while still trying to learn her confusing accounting system that's about as logical as a Scientologist in a psychiatrist's office. On top of her OCD micromanaging style, she truly makes Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada look reasonable, and she'll proudly tell anyone that Miranda wishes that she was as demanding as my supervisor. Despite our difference in style and outlook (I love my drama-free life. Most people might think it's boring but I'm all about self-education and self-improvement), we get along. However...if you think I want to endure another year of her neverending dramas, you must be crazy!

I won't talk about the other lady I share an office space with. I've already wasted too many words about our battles. I'm actually increasing my compassion for her as I read Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love. Had I known this book was that good, I'd have read it years ago!!! But I'm reading it now and hopefully the message will sink in deep to the depth of my soul. I truly need to learn whatever lesson I'm meant to learn so I can move on to better things. I'm not getting any younger nor am I living the life my soul intended for this lifetime. I need to get the hell out of here! Pronto!!!

Anyhow, this Christmas Eve, I will be reflecting on my year and counting the little blessings in my life. Despite not getting the very thing I've asked God for since January 2007 (two years!!!), I am truly grateful for the blessings in my life. I've had a lot of them this year. I feel like Forrest Gump in a lot of ways...for despite my low status in life and at work, I think I have a more incredible life than most people I know (including the management team at work). Whether its meeting famous people I've wanted to meet for years, or traveling to different places and seeing incredibly amazing things, having quite a few long-time friends, or just meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends...I have to say that life is amazing. So much of what I've wanted for years actually came true this year, so I'm hoping that the momentum is with me as our country goes through a big change in January.

I don't know if I told anyone this, but last year on my birthday, as I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, I prayed to God something along the lines of: "please, God, don't let me have another year like 2007. I don't think I can endure another year like it." I even said that if I was still working in the same place, I would jump off a bridge on my 37th birthday. Well...I did have another year like 2007 (while better than expected in my personal life, the horrible than desired working environment brings down my morale to dangerous levels of despair) and I'm still here. Don't worry...I won't be jumping off any bridges on my birthday (I just have a morbid sense of humour and absolutely love those "Bunny Suicides" cartoons!).

I owe it all to Barack Obama (love his photo above that I found in a Google search). So many people thought he'd never get elected. He still ran. And focused on the issues. And remained positive and full of hope. If he can endure all the character attacks thrown at him by the right and still have hope and then give the Republicans a major ass-whooping...then damn, I'm not going to let the negativity of my workplace get me down. They aren't going to push me into jumping off a bridge. This year, I have more hope in my future than I did last year. Yes I Can! isn't just Obama's mantra. It's mine too. I am going to get the hell out of that office next year. I will not allow this decade to end on a loss for me (the entire decade has been full of one loss after another for me--dream job; dream girl; car; three of my favourite relatives; income; dignity; another dream job; and the electoral defeat of three politicians I was passionate about--Gore, Dean, and Lewis). Besides, watching Obama make history is something I've dreamed of seeing since Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa.

A best friend of mine asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him, "a new job, a new job, a new job!" I know he can't deliver that one, even if we share the same name as the man in the red suit (oops...not that one! The other one, silly! You know...the one who laughs like a bowl full of jelly?). Anyhow, for Christmas, I seriously got two cool things: a President-elect Barack Obama and now, it does look like we will have a white Christmas after all. Who could ask for more than that? Maybe its another example of my ability to manifest an outcome (I wish!). I've been listening to Enya's And Winter Came... CD quite a bit, dreaming of a white Christmas season, and here we are!

I've heard a few co-workers grumble yesterday at work about all this snow and how they just want it to go away. What?!? I was shocked. You know how rare this is? The news reported that Portland hadn't had a winter storm this bad since 1968. It was so bad this past weekend that they had to close I-84 east of if anyone had to go east of Portland along the Columbia River, they were stuck in the Portland metro area. Also, all roads to the Oregon coast from Portland, Salem, and Eugene were closed as well. Most flights were cancelled for several days, making the holiday travel even more stressful since airlines had fully booked flights already. This weather has been crazy, but I guess I'm just the type who knows how to enjoy one of God's great gifts...a true appreciation for the power of mother nature.

I'm truly baffled to be among the minority who actually love this snow! Because this snowstorm is rare in Portland (and the years I lived in Atlanta), I'm enjoying it as much as I can because by this weekend, it's supposed to be melted away in our return to the normal rainy winter. Who knows when we might see snow like this again in Portland? It's a true winter wonderland so better enjoy it while it lasts.

Hope you enjoy Christmas Eve where ever you are (snow or not).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Junk e-mails Conservatives Send

A lady at work sent me an email with the following story. During the election, she had sent me defensive emails about Sarah Palin to get my opinion on it, even though I knew she had an ulterior agenda. How do I know this?

Well, I worked with this lady during my first year in Portland. We didn't get along very well. It was a true clash of opposites. For one thing, we shared an extremely tiny work space and she's a large woman, ungraceful and on the clumsy side. On a regular basis, she would unintentionally hurt me like pinching my hand as she pushed back her chair without awareness of my presence. Secondly, she's bipolar or has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. She can laugh with you in one breath and scream at you in the next for no logical reason. I have a hard time trusting mentally unstable people like that. More than that, she was also an evangelical Christian and a Republican (surprise, surprise!). But as fits the pattern, she's never been to college, she and her husband are in low wage jobs, yet they believe the lies of the right. Look how well it's done for them! They recently got evicted from an apartment for harbouring a pet dog against regulations and now live in a mobile home. It's the kind of downward mobility that the Republicans love!

Anyhow, when I get emails like the following, it truly steams me because it's blatantly false and reeks of ignorance. A decade ago, when I first got online, I gave out my email address to members of my church in Atlanta, which I thought would come in handy when I went off to college in Utah. I thought people would use emails to keep in touch. But their definition of keeping in touch is different from my definition. I don't consider keeping in touch to be passing along junk email like Bill Gates giving away money if they pass the email along, or religious "Chicken shit for the Soul" type of sentimental vomit, or the politically biased and blatantly false emails that trash people I admire...such as Gore, the Dalai Lama, Obama, and Jimmy Carter. I don't understand why people pass along shit to everyone on their email list. Email me to share something about your life, not some piece of propagandistic bullshit concocted by Republican operatives.

I ask why? What's the whole point? Please read what the email message says before I state what's wrong with it...

Irena Sendler
Not too very long ago there was a death of a 98
year-old lady named Irena.

During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the
Warsaw Ghetto as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist.

But Irena had an ulterior motive ...

Being German, she knew the Nazi's plans for the Jews.
Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried and a burlap sack she carried in the back of her truck for the larger kids.

She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the children's noises.

Irena managed to smuggle out and save the lives of 2500 children!
When she was eventually caught, the Nazi's broke both her legs, her arms and beat her severely.

But Irena kept the names of all the kids she was able to rescue.
She kept the list in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard.

After the war had ended, she tried to locate any parents that had survived to reunite the families, but most had been gassed. The kids she helped were placed into foster family homes or adopted.

Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She was not selected though.
Instead, Al Gore won for a SLIDE SHOW on Global Warming.

After I received the lady's email, I went over to talk to her about it. She dismissed my points because I was too much a Gore loyalist. Yes, I admit to being loyal to Gore. But I'm not blindly loyal. The email was an attempt by the jealous rightwing conservatives to belittle Gore's honourable award. This happened when Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Instead of being happy that an American won the Nobel Peace Prize, conservatives immediately started attacking Carter in an attempt to belittle the award. But I know why they do it. Jealousy. Their heroes NEVER win the Nobel Peace Prize, because it's awarded by Scandinavians who have a global view of the world, not a pro-American (screw the world) nationalistic one.

I told the lady at work that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the person who the Nobel Committee feels is doing an important work in the world raising awareness to an issue in the given year. It's not an award for past behaviour or accomplishments. That's not to belittle the lady above who was nominated, but many people are nominated each year. No one can nominate themselves. In 2007, conservative Americans actually had the audacity to nominate Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he has a snowball's chance in Hell of ever winning. See? Anyone can nominate anyone. Doesn't mean that they'll be honoured with such a prize.

Gore didn't win for "a slideshow." His documentary already won the Academy Award. He has done a lot of behind the scenes work in getting scientists and politicians together to raise money and awareness for this issue. In 2007, he also helped organize a worldwide concert on seven continents for 7 July 2007 (07/07/07). The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 went to a group of people working on behalf of awarness for climate change. Gore just happened to be the most famous of the people who were awarded. I will concede that he was probably the emotional favourite to win the award because the world does recognize how different things might have been had Gore been allowed to serve as president in 2001 instead of Bush. Because of Republican fraud, I would say that they helped set in motion a chain of events that led Gore to a Nobel Peace Prize. So, if they want to blame anyone, they should blame themselves for being such watercarriers to an incompetent presidential candidate.

Another point...I don't think Irena Sendler would begrudge Gore being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Genuine peacemakers and humanitarians don't care about awards, honours and accolades. She'll definitely get hers in heaven. I'm not denigrating her work on earth. She did what was necessary to be done...but like I said, the Nobel Peace Prize doesn't award people for what they did sixty years ago. The person awarded each year is awarded for work that they do in that given year or years preceding it. Gore has been interested and involved in climate change issues since he was a Senator in the 1980s. Had he been president these last eight years, he probably would not have won. It's no secret that Bill Clinton wants a Nobel Peace Prize, but whether he wins or not remains to be seen. Just because you want one doesn't mean you'll get it. It's supposed to be an honour, and actively lobbying for it actually hurts you. It's the way true awards are meant to be. Give the Nobel Committee some credit. It's the world's most prestigious prize for a reason...and that's an excellent track record (I only disagree with the awarding of Yassir Arafat the Peace Prize some years back, though I think it was a good faith effort, as he was co-recipient with Yitzhak Rabin when the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks needed the global support and attention).

However, if conservatives were honest, I would have to say that they don't give a damn about Irena Sendler. She's just a pawn to be used in their jealous gripe that Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize and their beloved Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush will never ever get one. Feast on that! If Republicans truly want to win a Nobel Peace Prize, stop supporting the war machine, starting wars, and grow a global vision that's not America-first.

If you're one of those people who forward these kinds of emails...please reconsider. Get all the facts before you just pass along crap (like the emails about Obama being a Muslim or not being an American citizen). What these emails tell me is that you are a stooge of the rightwing, gullible, and not worth taking seriously. It's fine by me if you love being lied to by your party and your peeps, having your money stolen from them while you complain about not making enough money. Just don't include me in your email lists. I'm a lot smarter than you think I am. I don't value ignorance as a virtue like you do. Facts matter.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Music Video Monday: Enya

The last in the series of Christmas videos for the holiday season: Enya's Gaelic version of "Silent Night." It's a bit too mellow for me, but I thought it was appropriate for the holiday. The song seems to be the most holy representation of Christmas. In fact, since childhood, I've always thought of this song as being the one, original Christmas song. Or the Christmas song of all Christmas songs.

Enjoy! And may you blessedly enjoy the few remaining days before the holiday. Make it sacred, make it special!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Snowy Weekend in Portland

The weathermen were right! Last weekend, we were hit with the first snow of the season. This time, the snow didn't melt upon touching the ground, as it did the last time I remember it snowing in Portland (Christmas Day...but now I forget...was it last year or the year before?). This winter has been a dismal one for skiers at Mount Hood, which lacked snow until the storm last weekend. By Tuesday, however, most of the ice and snow were gone and we were supposed to be hit with a second wave on Wednesday/Thursday. Nothing much came of that in downtown Portland, though outlying areas were affected by snow and ice. However, weathermen were predicting that the third wave would be the most severe and it would hit on Saturday.

Friday night (actually, early Saturday morning), I looked out my window and saw a wet parking lot and not even rain, so I kind of figured that the weathermen were wrong. It wasn't going to amount to much of anything, if at all. Which was fine by me, because I had a lot of errands I needed to do this weekend. The last weekend before Christmas meant that I still have some last minute Christmas shopping to do (for a meal on Christmas day for my bro and I; a few gifts left to buy; my last cards to mail out; and I wanted to stroll through the Saturday Market to see about buying something for myself before the market closes after Christmas, not to be reopened until March).

On Saturday, I woke up at 11 a.m. and looked out my window and saw a winter wonderland! Holy crap. And snow was still coming down. I walked to the post office to mail off some Christmas cards and saw that the streets were pretty empty. The snow was probably already a good 6 inches. By end of day, the news was reporting 14 inches of snow in some parts of the Portland metro area. Unbelievable! A true winter wonderland! I didn't think Portland ever got snow like this. I haven't lived in a place that got this much snow since Washington, D.C. in January 2000. What a way to end the year! In January, I got to see snow come down in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and now I get to see tons of snow hit Portland a week before Christmas. Will it last through Christmas day? I hope so.

After the post office, I headed to Starbucks to grab a chai latte and then strolled down the South Park blocks. I thought of hitting up a few stores on my errand list, but decided to head back home. On the walk back, I noticed one video store was advertising off rental DVD copies for $3 each. A "Saturday Only Sale!" Of course, who can beat DVDs for that price, so I walked in to see what was being offered and picked up three that I wanted to own but didn't want to pay full price for: Charlie Wilson's War, Lions for Lambs, and Dan in Real Life. I actually rarely buy DVDs new anymore...unless it's one of those "two-disc" special editions (which reminds me, I need to get The Dark Knight special edition). There's a music store downtown that sells used DVDs, but their price is $8.50 for most of them (I'm slowly working my way through the James Bond saga of watching them in chronological order from Netflix of those I don't like very much to buying the ones I want at the used DVD store. I'm up to Thunderball right now. I own seven Bond DVDs at the moment. Cool, huh? 007--seven DVDs).

After the video store, I reached a street corner where the streetcar was approaching. In front of me was a homeless guy struggling to push a shopping cart through the snow. He was blocking the path of the streetcar, so the impatient streetcar operator was honking the horn at him, which caused him to stop where he was to cuss her out. He kept calling her a "fucking bitch" and asked if she was from Florida. Couldn't she see that he was trying to get out of her way? He was just belligerent and angry, going off on a tirade. Then a microphone came on and the streetcar operator said: "please get out of the path of the streetcar!" Dang...I didn't know it had that capability. I admit that streetcar operators are a bit quick on the horn if any car is driving in front of them on the streetcar track, but I think streetcars have right of way.

The homeless guy just kept on ranting. He was seriously angry and went on and on about that "fucking bitch!" I got tired of hearing it, so I said to him: "it's unnecessary to speak to her that way. You were, in fact, blocking the streetcar." Oops. That did it. Then he turned his anger and profanity laced tirade on me, asking where I went to college because I should get a refund since I seem to lack any common sense. Granted, he was trying to push a shopping cart through snow (no easy task)...but on the flip side, I couldn't believe the level of his anger. I was happy all day because of the snow. The thought did come to me the reason why he might be angry. He's homeless and everything he owns is in that shopping cart he stole from Safeway. If he were to sleep in a shelter this weekend, where would he store his belongings? It's the dilemma of homeless people who still want to carry around their worldly possessions.

Even though he yelled at me, I found it incredibly easy to bounce off his negativity with a sense of compassion for his plight. As I pondered it later, why is it so easy for me to ignore his angry tirades but not my co-worker's (the one with severe emotional problems that I've written about previously)? Maybe that's my challenge. If I can deflect the anger of the homeless guy because I understood where the anger originates (his being homeless during a severe winter storm such as this), why can't I deflect the angry, abusive tirades of my co-worker (and I also understand where her anger originates...she's an unattractive, overweight woman with emotional problems and approaching 40 who will most likely never find a man to marry and is a member of a religion that preaches to her that her value in the afterlife depends upon the man she marries)? It's a challenge, I agree to that.

Last week, I had found a used copy of Marianne Williamson's Return to Love, which I had been wanting to read. I had just recently watched a lecture of hers on DVD and wanted to learn more about her ideas, which are pretty much the same ideas spoken by Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, and a whole host of other popular "self-help"/psychology/spirituality practitioners. I've heard of Marianne Williamson for years but only read one other book of hers just earlier this year (The Gift of Change). I'm truly experiencing an emotional high reading her book, now, so maybe that's why my level of compassion is higher this weekend than normal.

In the late afternoon, after checking the mail, I had planned to read a few chapters of Revolutionary Road in the lobby of the apartment, next to the gas-powered fire place. However, they turned off the gas and the family from Ethiopia was hanging out there, so we ended up visiting and talking politics. Then they told me about an incident at the apartment that happened a week or so ago, when a bunch of police cars were at my complex while I was at work.

Apparently, a resident named James (one of the few tenets I happen to see on a regular basis out and about the complex, so we always talk en route to wherever each of us happens to be going) was off his medication and started on some angry tirade in which he had threatened to kill the president of the United States. The apartment complex management called the police and it took eight police officers to subdue him. They used tasers and still couldn't knock him out! The result is that he is getting evicted at the end of the month. The Ethiopian family knows him quite well since their apartments were next door to one another. They said that they never had a problem with him or felt unsafe around him (the family has a 4 year old son who is a passionate Obama supporter and a 9 month old baby boy). They are aware that James has some kind of mental illness and gets government assistance. His rent is quite low and he makes extra money by going around collecting cans and bottles to turn in for deposit refunds.

So, the family from Ethiopia told me about how they didn't believe the "official story" from management that James was being evicted because he had threatened to kill the president, because it's ludicrous. How serious can you take a threat like that? It's not like Bush lives in Portland or ever comes here, and it's doubtful that he plans to visit during his last month in office. Also, it's known by management that James receives government assistance and is too poor to travel anywhere. The question we have is, how does that solve anything by throwing a mentally ill person out on the streets? I feel bad about the situation. James has always been friendly and pretty sharp in our conversations. I never felt unsafe around him and he never gave off an unstable vibe to me. The only problem I have in talking with him is that he sometimes reeks of alcohol and that smell always induces in me an urge to vomit. I'm just sad to see another example of a lack of compassion, where he's tossed out onto the streets to join the homeless ranks in the middle of winter. Actually, winter starts what's it going to be like in February?

It was odd to have come across two incidents of homelessness on the same snowy Saturday. It made me think of the homeless shelter in D.C. when the BYU Washington Seminar participants had one Saturday in March where we painted the hallways of the shelter. First, we had a video presentation followed by a tour. During the work part of the day, we were able to see the individual rooms that its inhabitants had. They were pretty nice little rooms, with locks. It enlightened me to the idea that homeless shelters could be a nice place, for the image I always had was an open room with cots. What shocked me about that day, though, were the attitudes of fellow BYU students. Overhearing their comments really drove home to me the basic philosophical differences between a liberal-minded person and a conservative-minded one. I remember talking about it with fellow liberals on the program.

Basically, the conservative students thought the residents had it too good. They complained about the homeless people not having to pay rent on their individual rooms. They had a problem with the freeloading aspect of it. Their question was, how can we expect these people to help themselves if they are given free room and board? My argument was to ask them, "would you want to live there?" Their answer was, "of course not!" Why begrudge a homeless person any small place of decency, where they can have a warm place to stay, and a small place to keep their belongings safe. This might not even be a permanent place for them, but a chance to rebound. How can one prepare for a job interview without any skills or a place to keep clothes neat or a way to be contacted? We, who are able to find jobs and a place to live, can be proud of the fact that we are responsible for ourselves and live the way we desire. So, why begrudge a little dignity and comfort given to homeless people? I'm totally all for homeless people having a place to stay warm and keep their belongings secure. I think it should be subsidized by the government as a sort of tithing on the federal budget.

The issue of homelessness reminds me of one experience Charles Lewis wrote about in his campaign literature or website. He said that he was never into politics as a teenager (like me). When he interned for Senator Mark Hatfield in the early 1990s, he happened to be in the office where none of the staff or Senator could see him. He overheard one staff member talk about a homeless person they saw on the street outside. Instead of making fun of homeless people, a conversation ensued about what was the best way to solve that crisis / issue. Charles said that he was cynical about politicians and people who work in government, but hearing their comments made him realize that there were people in public office who truly did care about issues and wanting to make the world a better place. That, apparently, sold him onto the idea of public service.

I had asked him if homelessness could ever be solved. There is a group in Portland dedicated to eradicating it within ten years. I don't see it as a possibility due to the fact that there are some people who like the freedom of not having a steady job or bills to pay. They love living day to day. However, I'm also of the opinion that our government is morally obligated to at least provide some shelter for anyone who is homeless regardless of the reasonings, particularly in bad weather. It's the least we can do and it's not a strain on the budget to provide this level of charity. I get angry when I see boarded up and abandoned buildings. They could easily be used as shelters for homeless people.

Anyhow, that's the thoughts I had going on in my mind yesterday as the snow came floating down. I'm still hoping that I can find my dream government job so I can be a part of solving these kinds of issues. Honestly, I belong in government. I'm not a corporate person at all. I think too many businesses are immoral, obsessed with profits at the expense of people. Thus why it has been disheartening for me to see the non-profit organization I work for acting more like a corporation than a government agency or charitable organization. But, that's a gripe for another day.

On Friday, news reported that two buses ran into a guard rail on a street above I-5 in downtown Seattle, due to ice. Because of the close proximity between Portland and Seattle, it wasn't a surprise to hear them get hit with the same winter storm that hit us. When I saw the photo above, the first thought that came to mind was: "Where is Superman or Spiderman when you need them?" It looked like a scene out of one of those movies.

I hope wherever you happen to be reading this, that you are safe and warm, having a place that keeps you out of the elements. It's definitely the one thing I can truly be grateful for. I have my own apartment to come home to every night.

Because of the ongoing snow, I decided not to go anywhere today. I wanted to walk the labyrinthe at the New Renaissance Bookshop, but the deep snow made it difficult to walk. I'm just crunching on ice. It's simply a nice day to sit at home and watch a few DVDs (though it's too late for me to watch a Thunderball / Never Say Never Again double feature).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Searching for a Legacy in the Dust of Disaster

With just one more month to endure of this terminal cancer on the White House, there's been a lot of talk lately about Bush's attempt to "write the first draft of history" as he searches for accomplishments to bolster his "legacy" to escape the verdict most people have already given him: Worst. President. Ever!

He even issued "talking points" for his minions to fan out across the talk show circuit and repeat to fawning corporate stenographers pretending to be reporters. Basically, he has come up with the following accomplishments for his eight years in office: No Child Left Behind legislation; tax cuts that guided our country through TWO recessions; prevented terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11; and most audacious of all: "restored honour and dignity" to the White House. Um...I'll get to that one a bit later.

First, I'd like to say that this "tradition" for outgoing presidents to wax nostalgic about their "legacy" is stupid. Legacy is something that starts on DAY ONE of your administration! (Memo to President Obama!). Think of it like a life review. Your life is judged in TOTAL, not for your final deathbed conversion after a lifetime of evil! Maybe Bush learned the wrong lessons from his mentor Lee Atwater (his father's "Karl Rove").

All this reminds me of when I was in the Navy and had to type up the fitness reports of officers. Fitness reports (FITREPS) are an annual performance review kind of thing that all officers must complete, which helps determine promotion points and whatnot. In my last year in the Navy, I remember being especially livid with one officer's fitness report. I was the secretary of the Multicultural Committee. The officer in question was "assigned" the Multicultural Committee as an extra duty. He never attended the meetings, had no involvement in the activity planning, basically showed no interest at all in this committee assignment. So, you can imagine my shock when I had to type up his FITREP from his notes, and he claimed to have initiated events and was a real "take charge" kind of officer as far as this extra duty was concerned. I raised my objections, but due to the whole politics of FITREPs, my peon rank of E-5 wasn't going to override an O-3 hoping for a promotion to O-4. I was in my last few months in the Navy, so it was just one more thing I hated about the military.

Why do I bring that up? Well...because that's what Bush's talk about legacy and his talking points reminds me of. He was "just there"...taking credit for things he had little to do with. Basically, for the past 8 years, I think he merely pretended to be the president. Or else, Cheney truly conned him into thinking that he did in fact make decisions as president, when Cheney most likely was the mastermind and enforcer of all that went on.

Bush's talking points about the "accomplishments" he wants his Kool-Aid drinking staff to drone on about on talk shows is actually hilarious. It shows that he truly scraped the bottom of the toilet to come up with that pathetic list of shit! First...No Child Left Behind! It's gonna be scrapped as soon as he leaves office. How will that be a legacy? A legacy is like Kennedy's Peace Corps (still going strong) or Truman's New Deal and Marshall Plan. Making children study "multiple choice testing tricks" is hardly stellar education to brag about.

Second...the tax cuts wiped out the surplus that Clinton left office with. It took Clinton six years to erase 12 years of Reaganomics ("tricked-down" tax scheme) and Bush managed to wipe out the surplus in his first two years. Hardly a legacy to be proud of. He did outdo the debt of Reagan and his father, though.

Third...if you're like me in thinking that 9/11 was most likely an inside job by certain neo-conservatives (with the help of al-Qaeda, of course, through intermediaries)...then his argument about keeping us safe from terrorism doesn't wash. If your own government is behind it, then of course you keep us safe because you don't allow a follow up act due to the constant questioning by independent media sources and groups like 9/11 Truth and the WTC widows. Furthermore, keeping us "safe from terrorism" didn't happen on 9/11, when a month earlier, Bush was on vacation and ignored DPB (Daily Presidential Briefing) memos with titles like "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." So, he may have "kept us safe" from terrorism AFTER 9/11, but on the day itself, he kept reading a children's book before fleeing to Offutt AFB on Air Force One and only showing up in public three days later. Yeah, some courageous actions during the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil! All that matters was that it happened on his watch, after he had plenty of warning and yet he did nothing.

Finally...we get to that phrase he promised in his 2000 campaign. It's the most outrageous, audacious lie he could ever tell. To remind you of the context, he went around in 2000 saying that he would "restore honour and dignity to the White House." It was a code for: "I will not embarrass you by getting a blow job by an intern while I'm president." Let's face it, Billy Boy's sex problem truly did offend a lot of good people. The media had a field day and just ran with it, tripping over themselves to educate everyone with a television exactly what Monica did with Bill, where, when, and how often. Was that Clinton's fault? I've heard many Republicans claim both that they were angry that "he lied" about the affair AND that "he rubbed his affair in our faces." Okay...if he lied about his affair, how did he rub it in our faces? He denied it happened until the infamous blue dress from Gap with the damning physical evidence was turned over for DNA testing. It was the media that rubbed it in our faces 24/7.

The phrase was Bush's mantra in 2000 and it's funny that after eight years, he's resurrecting his campaign promise as though it was proof that he kept his promise.

Here's how Mr. Dictionary defines HONOUR:

1) Good name; reputation; outward respect; 2) privilege; 3) a person of superior standing--used esp as a title; 4) one who brings respect or fame; 5) an evidence or symbol of distinction; 6) chastity or purity; 7) integrity.

None of those definitions really fit his actions or policies of the past 8 years. Especially the "integrity" part, which is how he probably thinks of the word when he uses it.

Here's Mr. Dictionary's definition of DIGNITY:

1) the quality or state of being worthy, honoured, or esteemed; 2) high rank, office, or position; 3) formal reserve of manner, language or appearance.

On this one, I will give them definitions #2 and #3, but the first one is arguable. I would refute that his administration was ever truly worthy, honoured, or esteemed after all the improprieties and maneuverings on the Florida recount in 2000. And even though Bush lost the popular vote to Gore by over half a million votes, he lacked the graciousness to realize that he was morally obligated to be president to ALL Americans. Instead, he ran to the far right as though he had won a Nixonesque landslide.

The image above of the tortured Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib that was revealed worldwide in the spring of 2004 is the perfect visual image of the Bush years. Their deeds don't match their words. And there is that idea commonly accepted in psychology that a person who obsesses over certain images or beliefs actually feels deficient in it. They want people to think of them as having "honour and dignity" because deep down, they don't feel they have it. Well, if they think that deeply, they are correct. They don't have honour and dignity. Never did. It was all a con job. A shiny bauble to distract gullible people from noticing that their cronies on Wall Street have been robbing us blind these past eight years.

The above is one of my favourite "unintentional" news crawls. Actually, who knows if the wording was intentional or not, but it made a point in more ways than one. It's especially brilliant because they were quoting Bush from his speech about the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in August 2005. Way to use his own words against him. I love it!

Bush has been doing a lot of "exit interviews" to put a spin on his record as president. However, I don't think it will hold up in the future because historians generally get it right. Bush's hope is that Iraq becoming a functioning democracy in the heart of the Middle East will prove his decision correct and the corporate media seems like its willing to follow that script. I say, "not so fast!" Bush has to be judged in comparison to the previous presidents and he truly broke longstanding tradition that our government does not torture (George Washington himself refused to allow American soldiers to torture captured British soldiers in the Revolutionary War). He also ran one of the most secretive administrations ever, making Nixon's administration look like a sunshine of transparency. There are many lies on record, especially in regards to knowing the exact locations of Saddam's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. We still haven't found ANY! How can they get away with a bold-faced lie like that?

Also, according to the standard of history, the Iraq War follows a pattern where a president is able to con Americans into rah-rah-rah-ing the war effort in the beginning, but as it continues along and grows unpopular, that hurts a president's historical standing. All one has to do is look at LBJ for an example. He's considered one of the best presidents in terms of achieving a legislative success, particularly the Civil Rights Bill, the Civil Rights Voting Act, and the Great Society programs...but all of that is overshadowed by Vietnam. He left office deeply disliked and a broken man who didn't live long in retirement.

Bush, however, is hoping for the redemption Truman received in the 1990s with a critically acclaimed biography that rescued his tarnished legacy. Truman left office in 1952 deeply unpopular because of the Korean War. Fifty years later, historians reevaluated his presidency and saw much to admire and improved his ranking among presidents. Bush may have received his bachelor's degree in history, but to rephrase an old debate quote by a certain Senator from Texas...historians know Truman, and you, Bush, are no Truman! Truman took progressive risks in integrating the Armed Forces; he saw through the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe devasted by World War II; he enacted the long standing policy of "containment" towards the Soviet Union when conservative Republicans wanted to go to war against them, and then again with China after it turned red. Truman also took personal responsibility, famously epitomized by the "the Buck Stops Here" sign on his desk. Bush hasn't taken responsibility for anything. He blames other people for the failures of his administration. "No one thought they'd fly planes into buildings." "No one expected the levees to breach." Abu Ghraib torture was blamed on low ranking Army reservists. Bush denied ever knowing "Kenny Boy" Lay of Enron and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, despite photographic evidence as well as a money trail.

Most of all, Truman is remembered as a sincere Christian, among the most religious of our presidents...and he threatened severe punishment to any American company seeking to profit from the destruction of World War II. That's true "honour and dignity." Bush is merely a pretender. So...even if Iraq does stabilize and becomes the only democratic Arab nation in the Middle East, it's not enough to ignore the lies, the incompetence, the disasters, and the needless death and destruction of so many lives during the Bush years.

In People magazine, Bush actually couldn't answer a simple question of what he'll do in retirement. Beyond moving into a nice new home in Dallas, setting up his presidential library and policy center, and writing a memoir, he said that he had no idea what he'll do and EVEN ASKED for suggestions!!! Seriously.

I have an idea:

I'd love to see him tried, convicted and sentenced for war crimes (along with Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith). That's truly the only way to gain worldwide respect, esteem, and "honour and dignity" because it would be unprecedented. We've seen plenty of inspiring prisoner-to-president scenarios (Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel, to name a couple), but a president-to-prisoner scenario? Man, the world would love that. It would be the true Trial of the Century! People would buy so many tickets to watch the War Crimes Tribunal hearings that we could get our country out of the debt its currently in.

Our great presidents are lucky to be honoured with their likeness or name on money, stamps, carved into a stone mountain, marble monuments in the nation's capital, countless streets, schools, and perhaps even a town or city. But what about the worst presidents? Don't they deserve their own tributes? Such as the George W. Bush toilet paper?

For an accurate monument, I move that we rename the toilet to "The Bush Dumper." Each time we take a dump and flush, we are reenacting what Bush has done to America these eight long years.

From here on out, I will be referring to portapotties as "Bush-dumper." So, if you hear me say, "I'm gonna use the Bush-dumper," you know where I'll be. Flushing away the toxins in my body into the cesspool of cynicism. I hope you will join me in renaming these "portapotties" (I hate that word anyway). Someday in the future, I can envision little kids telling their parents that they have to go to "the Bush-dumper" without knowing where the word came from. It'll be because of us, giving the appropriate tribute to the person who is guaranteed to be ranked dead last among presidents. So certain am I about his historical standing that I believe it should be carved in stone: George W. Bush--Worst. President. Ever.