Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Condolences

Mormon Prophet and President Gordon B. Hinckley with the President of Vice, Dick Cheney

Just wanted to offer my condolences to the Mormons who read my blog on the passing of your beloved prophet. I had hoped that he would live to see triple digits but perhaps he missed his wife and was ready to embark on the greatest of all adventures. He was an honorable man who did much to make the LDS Church more understood in a world too often focused on lies and misrepresentations. May peace be with him on his journey through the everlasting glories.

Moving Towards an Obama Nation

On Saturday, I had just gotten back from a snowy day in Coeur d'Alene when Vanessa dropped me off at the church's office (with a bedroom) before she headed to her friend's house. I turned on the TV to see how South Carolina voted and was pleased to see Senator Obama defeat Senator Clinton by a 2 to 1 margin, gaining 56% of the vote. In the primary and caucus results to date, Obama beat Clinton by wide margins in Iowa and South Carolina; whereas Clinton's wins in New Hampshire and Nevada were within a few percentage points over Obama (not decisive victories). I find that to be a very interesting phenomenon of the election season thus far.

As you can see in the photo of Obama and former President Clinton, it was obviously taken in better days...before Clinton played "the race card." I know that Clinton supporters defend what Clinton did and claim that he was misinterpreted, but let's take off the enabling glasses and see where it all went wrong.

Several news articles I've read have reported that Senator Ted Kennedy only recently decided to endorse Senator Obama because of President Clinton's statement that Obama's popularity is "the biggest fairy tale" he had ever seen and dismissing Obama's primary victory in South Carolina by comparing it to Jesse Jackson's win in 1988. In the lead up to the South Carolina primary, the Clintons played nasty with the race card and I believe that was the reason why the primary results were unmistakeably in Obama's favor. Clinton's statements and misrepresentation of Obama's statements and record only reminded people of the worst of Clinton (how he often plays fast and loose with the facts). Clinton's inability to control his own sexual addictions and appetites is the prime reason why we ended up with a Bush and not a Gore in the White House these past 7 years. He may be a master politician and a good steward of the economy, but his desperation to see his wife win the presidency is so transparent that I find it repulsive.

What I don't understand about Clinton is his lack of understanding the moment. Obviously, the Kennedy family can see the moment belongs to Obama more than Clinton. It's not often when our country goes through a complete political realignment as it is right now. Not only is the conservative era practically over (which one can say started in 1968 with the rise of Nixon), but as pundits like to point the past 6 elections where control of the White House switched parties, 5 occurred by the less experienced candidate who had a visionary message. As Oprah pointed out earlier, Obama is the right person at this moment to lead our nation so why should he have to "wait his turn"? Like Kennedy before him, Obama might not be experienced enough but he is the one candidate the Democrats have who even Republicans can rally behind. Clinton comes with too much baggage with a promise of four to eight more years of divisiveness in our political discourse. Obama offers a fresh start.

Surely Bill Clinton can understand the moment. He decided not to run in 1988 because he didn't feel ready for it, so he wisely waited until 1992. That was his moment. The timing was perfect for him (not so perfect for Gore, who had probably planned to run in 1996 after Bush's second term). His wife expected to be coronated as the nominee with little fuss (like how it was for Gore in 2000 when Senator Bradley didn't really amount to much of a threat to the appointed candidate). That's why she didn't run in 2004. She knew her moment was 2008. But she also played it safe, voting to authorize the Iraq War so it wouldn't haunt her when she ran for president. She represents the losing strategy of Gore and Kerry's campaigns and it's not going to gain her the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course, she may still win the Democratic nomination; but playing the race card is not the way to do it. She should recognize that she has a real fight on her hands and while she may feel that Obama should "wait his turn", that's for Democratic voters to decide. We, the primary voters, could very well decide that America needs new visionary leadership, a Kennedy for a new generation of Americans in need of a president worth admiring. Clinton just seems like a return to the same old, same old and we've had enough.

My theory on Obama's meteoric rise is that many Americans see him as a sort of redeeming figure and he could very well ride that wave all the way to the White House. When one looks at the differences in the presidents and reflect on how they got to the White House, a pattern emerges. Americans want someone completely different than the previous one with only a few exceptions. One could say that Bush was able to sneak into office because Gore didn't convince enough people that he was different from Clinton with his tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments. It allowed Bush to make the claim that he would be more straight-forward with the American people and promised to "restore honour and integrity". Of course, we all know that was a huge lie (one that I hope sends his soul straight to hell for a few centuries), but enough people bought into it. In 1992, Clinton appeared to be more accessable to the people and able to "feel our pain" during an economic downturn (remember news stories about the elder Bush being fascinated by supermarket scanners; of not knowing the price of milk; and of looking at his watch during one of the debates?). Bush pretty much won in 1988 as an unofficial "third Reagan term" even though he promised to be "kinder and gentler". In 1980, Reagan's sunny optimism helped Americans feel good again after the humiliation of the oil shocks, double digit inflation, Iran hostage crisis, and general "malaise" of the Carter years. Carter won in 1976 with a promise that he'd never lie to the American people. I'm not sure what Americans were thinking when they voted for Nixon in 1968, other than perhaps to redeem the close election of 1960 when Kennedy barely beat him. But in 1960, Kennedy did have the youthful, energetic image to counter what was then the oldest president to hold office (Eisenhower was in his 60s).

So, will that happen again in 2008? With a possible contest between Obama vs. McCain, it will be interesting to see if Americans value youthful energy over experience once again.

About the redemption idea...I believe that a lot of Americans do see Senator Obama as the one person who can finally heal our nation's deep racial wounds. Because he is racially-mixed, a lot of people might think he would make an effective leader to bridge the racial divide, since he'd know both experiences (despite accusations by some that he might not be "black enough." That may be the case, but if he was "too black", he wouldn't have done so well). I think it's very interesting that he came on the national scene at the right time. I get the feeling that Americans are tired of the divisiveness of our politicians and pundits (especially the likes of Bush, Rove, and Rush--three four-letter words that every mother should wash out of our collective minds). Obama could very well have history on his side. Think about it. Abraham Lincoln, the man from Illinois, is considered by many to be our greatest president and his political ascent can almost seem destined. He was the right man at the right time. He saved our union. So, isn't it interesting that in the midst of our decades of political divisiveness, we once again have a politician from Illinois who aspires to unite the country beyond the divisions of black and white; red versus blue. That's why I believe that this year is Obama's moment. It is ours to seize.

If you live in a state voting on Tsunami Tuesday, please vote for Barack Obama. Vote for hope, vote for change. Let's not continue the divisiveness of the past two decades. We need a new leader who is almost like a blend of Kennedy and Dr. King, who will lead us out of the darkness of the Bush era. Obama is that person. His time is now. And now is the time to heal.

John Edwards smiling through the tears

In other news, John Edwards dropped out of the race (I thought he was going to keep on through Tsunami Tuesday before throwing in the towel). In a speech after South Carolina's devastating third place finish (where he was born and the primary he won in 2004), he kept a smiling, brave face but it was interesting in that I could see his struggle to keep the tears at bay. He might've made fun of Hillary's tears, but he's just a big softie himself. He may not be president, but he still has a future ahead of him. I like the idea of him as Attorney General in either a President Obama or a President Clinton administration. We haven't heard the last of him.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Poster Boy of Stupid

I'm laughing my ass off because Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom many thought was a brilliant politician has made the biggest political miscalculation of all time!
He gambled his entire presidential campaign on Florida, thinking that no frontrunner would emerge after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan, and South Carolina voted. He spent most of his time, money and energy on Florida and ended up finishing behind McCain and Romney. What the hell was he thinking?

Even I knew it was a dumb move to not fight for votes in New Hampshire. One can skip Iowa with little penalty, but there is a huge price to pay for dissing New Hampshire voters. They have tradition in their favor, even though it's less important than it was prior to 1992 (the last two presidents came in second in their first NH primaries).

But, I'm just thrilled that Giuliani will drop out and endorse John McCain. I don't have to worry about the spectre of a President Giuliani (which had me seriously thinking of emigrating to Vancouver BC by year's end).

I'm amazed how well this campaign season is going. I predicted that Fred Thompson's candidacy was more hype than substance; and he dropped out after South Carolina. I predicted that Giuliani made a huge mistake putting all his eggs in the Florida basket(case) (no politician should ever count Florida as "in the bag!"). And I told a John Edwards supporter who tried to tell me that if he's the Democratic nominee, neither race nor gender will be an issue and the Democrats will be guaranteed a victory in November: "the reign of white men is over. History is going to be made in this election." Edwards is now only in it for the delegates to influence his agenda on whoever the nominee will be (and there is rumour that the Obama campaign might ask him to serve as the Attorney General in his administration, which I think would be an excellent idea).

And more good news...Kucinich dropped out because he was approaching his deadline to run for reelection of his Congressional seat (he faces major competition this time). I'm glad he saw the writing on the wall. Now if only aliens would abduct the little Napoleon and leave his wife behind to become Romney's second wife after the Mormon Republican drops out to take up the doctrine of plural marriage.

The best news I heard all weekend though is the endorsement of Senator Kennedy, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg for Senator Barack Obama. I love, love, love the Kennedy family. No one can talk shit about them in my presence because I consider myself a "Kennedy Man" (a political offspring of that great family who inspired America to live true to its idealism). That they have decided to endorse someone I consider to be "the black Kennedy" (certainly we haven't seen this kind of star quality in a candidate since Robert F. Kennedy in 1968) shows how well attuned their ideas and preferences are to my own. I was simply thrilled to hear about this major endorsement of my candidate of choice.

All is not bad for Hillary though. She does have the endorsement of Robert F. Kennedy's eldest daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was a Lieutenant Governor of Maryland in the late 1990s but couldn't win the governorship of that heavily Catholic and Democratic state in 2002.

What else can I say but I'm very happy about the political turn of events. We won't have a President Giuliani to worry about. And hopefully McCain will secure the nomination after Tsunami Tuesday and put to rest any fears of a presidential administration of the flip flopping disingenious Mormon from Massachusetts. If the Democrats can't win the White House after a disasterous Republican administration, then I want a President McCain, because like Gore, he was denied his right to lead our country in 2000 by the spoiled and inexperienced brat we know as Bush.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back From a Blizzard

Just returned this evening...two days later than planned due to what newscasters called "the biggest snowstorm in fifty years." The snow started falling at 11 a.m. a couple hours after Vanessa had dropped me off in Coeur d'Alene while she returned to Spokane for visits with her friends. She promised to pick me up at 4 p.m. What we didn't count on was snow, snow, snow. It just kept on coming down. It was a first. It was gorgeous as it came down on Coeur d'Alene. But it also made driving treacherous. Vanessa was late picking me up, then we decided to put chains on her two front tires.

As we drove back to Spokane, we heard a loud bang and immediately knew that the chains on her right front tire had broken so we had to pull over on the Interstate (very dangerous) as the snow came down. We took the damaged chain off and she drove me back to the church with just the left front tire in chains. The snow kept on coming down, all much so that the news mentioned that many churches were cancelling services. Fortunately, the Community of Christ congregation did not, though not much more than ten people showed up. Vanessa was staying at her friend's Scott's house and they came to church and drove me back to his place afterwards. We were supposed to leave no later than 2 pm. Then we realized that her right front tire was flat and that the chain, when it broke had damaged the windshield wiper fluid container. That meant we couldn't leave until she got it all fixed, which wouldn't happen on a snowy Sunday afternoon. With her having to find a replacement part, we figured we weren't leaving until Tuesday at the soonest or most likely Wednesday. Scott said that perhaps it was God's way of keeping us from an unforseen accident or emergency had we left on Sunday as planned.

Hearing the news about the closing of I-84 on Sunday gave merit to that idea. The storm dumped up to 13" of snow in the Spokane area. I don't think I've ever seen that much snow, at least not since January 2000 when I was in D.C. But I loved seeing the snow, and though I had only planned to take one day off, it was a much needed vacation from work so I enjoyed it.

I didn't get to post on my blog about Obama's win in South Carolina or my take on Bush's State of the Union...but I'll try to get to those this week.

I'm just happy that all is well. We made it back safe and sound. We took off the chains before we started on the voyage back to Portland/Vancouver WA and thankfully didn't need to put them back on. That's what we had hoped and prayed for, so we are blessed and grateful.

The weekend was more adventurous than I thought it would be and I truly did enjoy seeing what I consider to be the most beautiful place on earth once again. I can't wait to return there later this year for the retreat. I know I'll take brief mental vacations to Coeur d'Alene whenever work gets too stressful. That's where my heart is at the moment. I forgot to bring it back with me.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Live From Coeur d'Alene, It's Saturday!

I'm writing this right now from the public library in beautiful Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. It has been snowing for several hours now and I love it!

That's right, after dreaming about this place since 1999, I have finally returned for a more in depth visit. It's every bit as beautiful as I remembered. In fact, today, I experienced a scene similar to one of my favourite scenes in Dead Poets Society. There was a small dock on the water and the snow was falling, reminiscent of the scene when Ethan Hawke runs out of the dorms after learning about his roommate's suicide. It was every bit as beautiful.

Coeur d'Alene has the perfect population for a small town. Before I saw this place in 1999, I had reflected on what an ideal small town would be. I wanted to live in a town with about 30,000 residents, next to water and mountains, with plenty of trees. I also want a town with a vibrant downtown (not decaying like my grandparents hometown of Atchison, KS which is a shame because that town has steep hills, plenty of Victorian mansions and one could imagine that's what San Francisco would be like with just 13,000 residents). Those qualities I have listed make Coeur d'Alene the town I hope to live in some day (when I'm a published novelist and can afford a nice home overlooking the lake).

Unfortunately, there is no bookstore in town. It closed down after the brochure/map was printed, I suppose. It would be hard to give up Powell's Bookstore and the New Renaissance Bookstore in Portland to live in Coeur d'Alene. However, in my ideal dream world that I hope to manifest someday (why not? Stranger things have happened. I've gotten so many things that had been on my "wishlist to the universe."), I would have a loft condo in Portland where I'd live in the winter; and then spend summers and a couple winter holidays in a house in Coeur d'Alene. And if I ever needed to get away for a personal spiritual retreat or to seclude myself to get a writing project done without distractions, Coeur d'Alene would be the place.

Anyhow, I'm excited about the Young Adult Memorial Day retreat I'm planning. My only concern is turnout (I want more than 10 but no much more than 30; 20 or so would be a good number). I think if people commit to that weekend, they are going to have a spiritually enhanced weekend. Just being out in the places I'm considering will do wonders. This is a big undertaking, but I am happy to do it. One reason is that it's keeping me from making a rash decision to seek a private contractor position in Afghanistan or Iraq. I'm hoping that I will be able to have a new job by the time the retreat rolls around. But for now, I'm just happy to be in the place that I consider "the most beautiful place on earth that my eyes have ever seen." Hmmmm, if I'm a famous novelist someday, I'd like to market that with the Coeur d'Alene Convention and Tourist Bureau. Or maybe Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams") got it wrong. It wasn't heaven nor was it Iowa. It was IDAHO!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pelosi Got [a] Boehner

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was able to get the Republicans (led by Congressman Boehner, who insists his name is pronounced "BAY-ner" and not the OBVIOUS way!) to agree to tax rebates for people making less than $40,000 and nothing for people making more than $200,000. Of course, the Democrats didn't get everything they wanted (extended unemployment and an increase in food stamp payouts), but they did good.

While I'm not complaining about getting a tax rebate (and I better get one because I didn't get one in 2001), I don't think it will solve the problem of our slowing economy. We need liveable wages and lower cost of living. Anything short of that and this money, if spent, will most likely end up buying goods manufactured in China. So, once again, the Chinese economy will benefit from this tax rebate more than the American economy. Besides which, spending $600 isn't really going to cause companies to hire more people because the money won't be a steady and reliable flow. On top of that, this plan encourages consumerism, which is a big part of the problem (our planet simply cannot handle continued economic growth and unchecked consumerism).

What will I do with my tax rebate? Well, along with my annual tax refund, I hope that will be enough money to finally move all my things from storage in Georgia to Oregon before gas prices go through the roof. I'm in the northwest to settle and I won't feel permanent if my things are still in a storage facility in Atlanta. So, U-Haul and gas companies will get my refund and rebate. Will that stimulate the economy? Somehow, I seriously doubt it.

But I'm glad that Pelosi has the power to get a support the low wage working class people. Perhaps the Republicans smell a major revolt if they didn't compromise for the under $40,000 salaried people. And to those who think there are no differences between Democrats and Republicans, I'd like to present this agreement as evidence that they don't know what they are talking about. Pelosi's deal makes me proud of my party (I don't have to cry if I don't want to!).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stepping Out in Good Faith

So it begins. Today, three political campaigns I am interested in all had their first official volunteer session this evening. Not cool. I wanted to go to all three and perhaps narrow it down to two, but I had to choose and choose I did.

I went to Sam Adams newly opened campaign headquarters, in a loft suite in a formerly industrial building on the other side of the Willamette River from downtown (where I live). It was a short but fantastic walk, just 30 minutes.

The first task I was assigned was ordering pizzas. About 11 people showed up and all we did was make signs for a future "neighbourhood convention" that the Sam Adams for Portland Mayor campaign is planning. As we made signs, Sam Adams made an appearance and shook all our hands like the true politician he is. He thanked us for our dedication, talked about his busy four hours dialing for dollars (unfortunately, our political system of needing to hit supporters for money to fund a campaign exists at the local level too), and went to his next scheduled event. I've seen his schedule and he is a busy man, perhaps the busiest of all City Commissioners (as well as the most ambitious).

I've seen him at a few events before, but it hit me this time how much he resembles The West Wing's Sam Seabourne character (played by Rob Lowe) come to life. The reason why I'm supporting his campaign to be Portland's next mayor is because he is the politician I've been looking for to hopefully be a political aide in his administrative office once elected. His core issues are identical to mine: sustainable development, affordable housing, livable wages, and public transportation (particularly the Portland Streetcar, as he wants to see it's expansion to Portland's eastside). You know how rare it is to find such a politician on the same wavelength as me? I never found it in Atlanta. Before Adams, Al Gore was the only other politician who was interested in the issues I most cared about. So, here's hoping that Sam Adams will win the election this year. Until then, I plan to volunteer at least three evenings a week, and Saturdays too.

The first cool event on the schedule is for this weekend, called "Bar Hopping with Sam Adams." That'd be cool to attend, but I have to miss out unfortunately because I'm going to Spokane, Washington to work on one of my other goals this year. I'm organizing a Young Adult retreat in the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area to link up Young Adults from the Seattle, Portland, Spokane/Coeur d'Alene/Missoula, and Utah areas. It's quite ambitious and I'm excited about it. Vanessa, who lived in Spokane, is driving up there to visit old friends and co-workers. I'm just tagging along so I can meet church members there and talk up the retreat.

The theme is "Ignite the Fire!" and I'm currently in the process of selecting songs, thinking up ideas to discuss in a worship service, skits to perform at campfire, and fun activities that incorporate going out into Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. Vanessa has gotten permission from one lady to use her home on Hayden Lake (town most famous for once having a neo-Nazi training camp in the vicinity) for water sports.

Why am I doing this? Because in 1999, when I drove through Coeur d'Alene on my roadtrip journey to Seattle, I had hit the town at the right time. The sun was at the right level in the sky and everything simply glowed. When I saw Coeur d'Alene, I heard a voice say: "this is the place; this is heaven on earth!" I've wanted to come back ever since to see if that holds true. But out of all the places I've seen on this planet, no where is more beautiful to me than Coeur d'Alene. It's where I hope to settle someday when I'm a successful novelist. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves. For now, I want to bring together Young Adults of our faith community in this beautiful place in the hopes that the connections we make with one another will indeed be the spark that ignites all of us to become more active and bring more young people into the church. There are people out there who are searching for something, and while I've never been big on converting people, I believe that what people most want is a sense of a deeper connection (to others, to life, and to the transcendent). I've never felt a connection deeper than the ones I've felt in this faith community. People should experience it, because "once you've experienced it, you want to pass it on..."

The Spokane Valley Community of Christ congregation (brand new building which will be "base camp" for the Memorial Day 2008 Young Adult retreat)

Below: Downtown Spokane Washington

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another Casualty of Hollywood

Normally, I don't want to post on our celebrity culture unless I can find a political or spiritual angle, but I truly was shocked when I came across an Internet blurb on yesterday afternoon that Australian actor Heath Ledger was found dead in New York. He was 28.

So, instead of posting on my increasing dislike of former President Clinton's unwanted opinions about Obama (cuz, it's so transparent why he's so passionate about it. He still owes his wife big time for his Monica mess. I have a feeling that she has never let him off the hook for that one, which happened ten years ago around this time), or another post I was going to do on the latest Tom Cruise/Scientology scandal (anyone see that promo video for Scientology that Cruise did where he's laughing like a retard? Certi-freaking-fiably cah-RAY-zee!)...I'm posting on one of the best actors of Generation Y. The Scientology post will just have to wait (I've been wanting to post my opinion on them for a long time, so we'll see).

Meanwhile, for my tribute to Heath Ledger...

The first film I saw him in was The Patriot where he played Mel Gibson's strong-willed son who wants to fight in the Revolutionary War against his father's wishes. I thought it was interesting that there were two Australian actors playing in a film about American history. It was like, what? they couldn't find American actors? But he did a great job.

The next film was A Knight's Tale, which I remember reading articles where Heath was embarrassed by the marketing decision for the film (with his face taking up most of the poster with the catchphrase: "He Will Rock You!"). His non-actor buddies in Australia gave him such a ribbing for that catchphrase. It must have affected him because he made less commercial films after that. However, "A Knight's Tale" remains my favourite of the films I've seen him in (I love the Medieval period, I loved the music, and I especially loved Shannyn Sossamon in that film). Even my best friend Nicholas Smith liked it, surprising both himself and me, for he thought that making the film an anachronistic "rock musical" would make a mockery of the period. I'm not a stickler about period pieces because nothing puts me to sleep faster than a faithfully accurate adaptation of a Jane Austen or Charles Dickens novel.

After a slew of low budget and gritty roles in forgettable films, he gained more attention and his first and only Oscar nomination for the controversial "Brokeback Mountain" in which he played a cowboy conflicted about who he loved (his wife or his buddy). That movie spawned a lot of jokes, and perhaps in a way to prove that he didn't swing that way, he and co-star Michelle Williams made a baby. That relationship went the way of all Hollywood relationships, breaking up last year. What is with these people, anyway? I thought Heath might've been different, since he lived in Brooklyn and favoured a "Bohemian lifestyle" (as newspapers have reported). He lived outside the influence of Hollywood, away from the glitz, glamour, and papa-nazis. So how did he end up like River Phoenix?

Perhaps it was his final role, as the Joker in the upcoming "The Dark Knight" movie. In the article on, Ledger had said that he struggled with sleep after playing a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy." Yikes! Perhaps dabbling in the dark side was just too much for him.

Was it suicide or an accident? Who knows? All I know is that Hollywood lost a talented young actor. He's just the latest casualty in the never-ending war Hollywood is waging against young people. Throwing tons of money and fame at these people can't be a good thing. Any day now, I'm expecting to hear of Britney Spear's untimely death. The Hollywood papa-nazis seem to be wishing for it. Nothing sells tabloids like young death. If you don't believe me, check how many times Anna Nicole Smith made the news last year, even though she died early in the year. We still get updates!

Let him rest in peace. And may his soul find peace. We'll never know what roles he would have perfected in a long career. And another toddler (his two-year old daughter Matilda) is orphaned by the Hollywood death machine (well, she still has her mother at least).
In other Hollywood news, they released the Oscar nominees yesterday and I haven't seen any of the Best Picture nominees. It looks like another boring Oscar year. Maybe the Hollywood Writer's strike is a good thing. It can finally answer a zen question: "What if they held an Academy Awards show and no one watched?" We could all use a break from all the back-slapping that goes on with too many awards for the same small group of people. Let's get back to the real world and the issues that matter: never ending war, stagnant wages, sputtering economy, ascendant China, and the dysfunctional Bush and Clinton family dramas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Better Man

Eight years ago on this day (22 January), I was in Washington D.C.'s Union Station buying a Gore 2000 sweatshirt and some political buttons from a cool political shop and on my way out of the station when I passed the Discovery Channel Store. Emanating from that store was the funkiest song I had ever heard, so of course, it grabbed me and pulled me into the store. I asked the store keeper what singer was playing. He told me Keb Mo, whom I had never heard of. The song was "A Better Man", a mix of funk and blues with some banjo twang thrown in for good effect. It was truly a magical moment of serendipity. I asked the store keeper/sales clerk if all his songs were this infectious and he said yes. So, I decided to buy a copy of the CD.

When I got home, I listened to it endlessly. In fact, for the entire semester, I played it so much that I'm sure my roommates have it burned into their long-term memories. The song "A Better Man" will probably always be associated to me by my fellow roommates. However, when I heard that song, I always thought it would've made the perfect campaign song for Bill Bradley (who was running against Gore). In 2004, I gave a copy of that CD to Howard Dean when he attended church with Jimmy Carter down in Plains, Georgia (I went there specifically to meet him as well as cross off my list of things to do: attending Carter's Sunday School class). I thought the song was perfect for his campaign as well. I have no idea if he listened to that CD, but I believe it was through the graces of my spiritual guide that I was able to meet him and deliver that CD to him.

In fact, I often wonder about my luck at being at the right place at the right time. I would most likely have never have heard that CD if I had gone to the store in Union Station at another time or day. Because it was a promotional CD, it might've played all day. But all that matters was that the most infectious song caught the attention of my ear at the right time and really affected my semester for the better. It was perhaps an omen of all the good things that were to come. My whole semester was full of coincidences, synchronicities, and serendipities. In a word, my semester in D.C. was purely "magical."
On the Cybercommunity webboard recently was a debate about coincidences. Too many scientifically-minded members of our church pride themselves on logic, reason, and rational thinking that their views on God and the universe are quite baffling to me. They want to dismiss any meaningful coincidence as a scientific probability. They even equate mundane coincidences of perhaps bumping into the same people at the airport (with all the business travelers out there, it's not really that surprising) to the more strange ones of the sort I had discussed (when you have many coincidences occur within a short timeframe which match thoughts you recently had). The debate might be frustrating only because of my history of finding difficulty getting along with people who are scientific materialists or people who subscribe to Ayn Rand's philosophy of selfishness as a virtue. Even the existentialism of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre was hard to relate to in my younger days when I fancied myself one of them.

I guess I've had too many odd coincidences that answered an inner question I had at the time to make me believe that it could be anything other than a spiritual occurrence. I feel sorry for scientific materialists and their worship of cold scientific rationalism. By their need to know and understand every facet of our universe, they have stripped away the wonder and awe of creation. The smug arrogance of many of them is off-putting. I may have many disagreements with fundamentalist types, but I also understand the appeal of mystery, wonder, and divine guidance. Call me naive or a fool, but I prefer to live in a magical universe, where coincidences really do lead you to your destiny, to your calling.

As Keb Mo sings in "A Better Man":

"Sittin' here in my problem
What am I gonna do now
Am I gonna make it
Someway, somehow
Maybe I'm not supposed to know
Maybe I'm supposed to cry
And if nobody ever knows
The way I feel
It's all right
And it'll be ok

I'm gonna make my world a better place
I'm gonna keep that smile on my face
I'm gonna teach myself how to understand
I'm gonna make myself a better man

Climbing out of the window
Climbing up the wall
Is anybody gonna save me
Or are they gonna let me fall
Well I don't really wanna know
I'll just hold on the best I can
And if I fall down
I'll just get back up
It'll be alright
It'll be ok

(Repeat Chorus two times)

Maybe I'm not supposed to know
Maybe I'm supposed to cry
And if nobody ever knows
The way I feel
That's all right
It'll be ok."

Amen, brother!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Keep the Dream Alive

Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Martin Luther King Holiday. It's amazing to me that forty years after his assassination, we're still not in a place where we can have a full blown discussion on race relations in the U.S.

Granted, we have a chance to elect the first African American president in this year's election. But even then, Barack Obama has to walk a tight line by not truly addressing the issues most important to the African American community. The question remains whether the 50% or so of black voters in the Democratic primary in South Carolina are going to vote for one of their own or go with Hillary Clinton because of the fondness many have for the Clintons.

I want the dialogue on race to happen. We've gone too long without hashing out the issues and I don't think our country can continue on the path of prosperity by continuing to ignore the problems of race, poverty, inequality in opportunity and education, and overcrowding prisons. I don't support reparations for slavery because no one alive today was ever a slave (besides which, as painful and immoral as slavery in America is far superior than life in African nations). But that doesn't mean we can't find other solutions. Eradicating poverty should be our biggest priority. I continue to be amazed that rightwing Christians have no problem supporting a war in which billions are wasted on destroying lives, but if one president decided to spend the same amount (or even 10% of it) on anti-poverty programs in the U.S., these people would raise a huge stink.

Gee, Christians...what would Jesus have us do? Spend billions on ruining lives through warfare or spend billions improving lives through government programs? Donating to charity is simply not enough to eradicate poverty in our country or our world.

So, let's keep the dream alive. Let's keep hope alive. And reject divisive politicians.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Remembering Michael and the Navy

The above picture of cousin Michael Carroll (my youngest cousin) with me at our grandparents house was taken in May 2005 when we had a family reunion centered on his high school graduation. Michael was probably the second most popular member of the Carroll Clan (my grandfather's brother Jim is without a doubt the most popular). Everyone loved him. He was such a likeable kid.

On January 20th two years ago, I came home from work and planned to do a special observation/reflection for myself on the ten years I'd been out of the Navy. I'm a big anniversary guy and like to spend significant anniversary dates doing something special to mark the occasion, whether it's a special dinner, watching a certain movie, or lighting candles and meditating on the significant event. But on that day, as soon as I got home from work, my mom called to share with me the tragic news that cousin Michael had taken his own life. He was 20 years old. Out of respect for him, I won't share the reasons why he took his own life. However, it was devastating news and the first family tragedy that I could ever recall. Two years later, he is still missed. His parents have recently adopted a baby girl from Guatemala, named Marisol. I don't know when I'll get to meet the family's new addition, but I'm sure that Marisol will bring much joy into my Uncle and Aunt's life...though as I'm well aware, no one truly ever heals after a loved one takes his or her own life.

Now it has been a dozen years since I've been out of the Navy. When I got out, I was debt free, I sold back my unused leave which gave me enough to make the final two months payment on my car (Geo Metro) and live on for a few months (I had planned to use the remaining money to go on a monthlong vacation to Australia in August 1996). I can't say that it has been easy for me these past few years. There was a time in college when I was so broke, I lived on Ramen noodles and actually reminisced about the Navy ("at least you don't starve to death!"). However, after having such positive thoughts about the Navy and almost wanting to go back in, I'd slap myself for such thoughts and remind myself that I had freedom. I could determine what I wanted to do. If I didn't like a job, I could quit. I wouldn't have to miss out on events because I was at sea for six months. No, it hasn't been an easy twelve years...and certainly not financially secure as I'd like. But, in the past twelve years I have to laugh when I think about my supervisor, the Admin Officer on my last ship, who said that if I got out, all I'd find for work was flipping burgers and that I wouldn't be able to travel like I did in the Navy.

Well...since I've been out, I've been to college; I've travelled far and wide (from Berlin to Honolulu; Boston to San Francisco); I've interned for Vice President Gore; but most important of all...I've met many wonderful people who've been a blessing in my life. Would I give up all those friendships and experiences for a safe and financially secure career in the Navy? The answer is obvious. Heck no! I value my freedom too much. I appreciate my Navy experience. It was five years of learning about myself on my way to becoming the man I am today. Some experiences don't have to be very long. I knew when I joined that the Navy was good for one enlistment. If I truly wanted a military career, I would've joined the Air Force. But I can't regret any of the choices I've made. For in their own way, they led me to where I am now. All I can do is be grateful for the experience as I continue on the path my heart leads me to follow.

Just One More Year

One year from today, we will finally be rid of the petulant boy king imposter to the most powerful office in the world. I have a feeling that the entire world will celebrate his departure as the most disasterous president the world has ever known. He will be one for the history example on how not to lead a superpower in an age when other nations like China, India and the European Union are hoping to take the reigns of superpower status away from a politically divided, economically weakened, heavily indebted, war-mongering nation such as ours under the Republican party.

Of course, anything can happen in a year. Recently revealed was the news that the Iranian gunboats "attacking" Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz was fabricated in order to boost Bush's standing as he headed to the Middle East to drum up support for his aggressive stance against Iran. It seems, finally, that the boy king who cried wolf so many times in the past 7 years has finally been ignored. People have tuned him out since the Katrina fiasco two and half years ago. Never before has the American people been so heavily invested in the race for president, as we have in the past year. With probably over 20 debates in the past year, I can't ever recall a time when so much focus has been on the next president. It proves to me that everyone (except his core group of 30% blindly loyal supporters who wouldn't abandon him even if he committed adultery, murdered a staff member, and confessed that he was really gay) is sick of this president. What shocks me the most is hearing Republicans who had voted for him in 2000 and 2004 admit to being tired of him and not wanting to ever see another Bush family member as president. Of course, these people don't want to see another Clinton in the White House either.

The photos below are some of my favourites. They show the once-arrogant Bush and the strain of the past few years in which his entire agenda has fallen apart because of supposed incompetence in the handling of the Iraq War and the post-Katrina mess of New Orleans. He couldn't get his war against Iran (though that still might be his last act in office...never trust a bitter Bush leaving office. His father got us into the Somalia mess after losing the election to Clinton). His plan to privatize social security floundered. His No Child Left Behind will most likely be scrapped once he's out of the White House. His only legacy will be failure on the three most important counts: failure to do all he could to prevent the 9/11 attacks; failure to win the peace in Iraq; failure to prepare and provide for the people of New Orleans.

Should we be surprised? He failed as an athlete, failed as a military pilot, failed in a run for Congress, failed in two businesses (Arbusto and Harken Energy), and failed as president (remember his catchphrases: "compassionate conservative", "reformer with results", and "uniter not a divider"?).

It is my hope that he does not do any more lasting damage in his last year as president. I hope he will be the lamest lame duck president we ever had. And when that day comes, one year from now, may our government pursue criminal charges against him for everything he did illegal while president. I'd love to see him become the first "president-to-prisoner" in our nation's history. No one deserves prison more than this criminal president.

Bush becomes one with the turkey

Scene I hope will come true one year from now

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Uncommon Devotion

Top Row: Dan from Regina SK, Shannon from Vancouver BC, Allyson from Puyallup WA, Erik from Marysville WA, Jarom from Salem OR, and Andy from Portland OR;

Bottom Row: Sean from Marysville WA; some Canadian dude; Turena from Federal Way WA (home of American Idol Sanjaya); a lady who's name I forget; Katharine from WA; me (with the colourful tie); and Rachel from Portland OR

A week ago, YAPS and MAYAs spent the weekend in Vancouver BC. It was even better than last year (we even managed to double our number from last year). A year ago, I was the only one from the Portland area to make the trip and I went up early so I could sightsee in a city I hadn't seen since 1999.

This year, four of us from Portland carpooled on Friday night up to Marysville, Washington to meet up with Erik and Sean, the leaders of YAPS. In the drive up from Portland, Andy, Jarom, Rachel and I had great conversations about everything under the sun. It made the trip seem much shorter and we got to know each other better. My favourite question was "What's the most powerful spiritual experience you ever had?" Man, were they all powerful in their own ways!

On Saturday, we left Marysville and met up with a few more people for a caravan to Vancouver (three cars). At the border, we were inundated by questions from the border guard, who didn't believe that we were going to Canada for a church related activity. He asked if we were all fingerprinted and if we said no and the computer showed that we were, who knows what would happen. But, he was just being a jerk, I suppose. We were unlucky to have been the first car after a shift change. Sean and Erik in the car ahead of us got lucky with minimal questions because they supposed the guy was in a hurry to get off work.

But we made it to the Community of Christ congregation without any problems and met up with a few Canadian young adults, including the Young Adult minister for the entire Canada West Mission field. Dan, the Young Adult Minister, lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. And as he educated me, it's not pronounced "Re-GEE-na" as I had thought, but "Re-GY-na" (rhymes with a certain female anatomy). I laughed when I heard that, especially his story about how the Rolling Stones came there for a concert. Since Regina has only about 100,000 people and Saskatoon is larger, one can safely assume the real reason the Rolling Stones would pick that tiny city in central Canada for a concert. As Dan said, when Mick Jagger came out on stage, he told concert goers: "I've always wanted to perform in Regina because it rhymes!"

We spent the afternoon at an anthropological museum at the University of British Columbia, which features a lot of wood carvings made by the Natives who once lived and thrived in the Pacific Northwest. Outside, there was a steep descent down to the beach, some 300+ steps. The sign said that the beach was "clothing optional" but it was much too cold to go native on anyone.

The walk down was a breeze, but I regretted going down once I had made it halfway back up. Man, it was steep!

After the museum, MAYAs split off from the YAPS and Canadians so we could drive through downtown and walk around Stanley Park for an hour. It was a nice evening and offered great views of the city skyline, the surrounding water, and the Lions Gate Bridge. Once the sun had set, it was time to head back and I surprised everyone with my navigation skills. I got us back to the church without getting lost (a skill I've had since childhood. If you can read a map, you'll do fine anywhere).

We didn't get time to see more of downtown or check out the Vancouver Public Library (designed after the Colosseum in Rome with souvenir shops and cafes as part of the structure). But we had a great evening of karaoke and games (like last year).

For Sunday's church service, Erik chose the theme of "Uncommon Devotion" which comes from the most recent Doctrine and Covenants Section 163 (for those unfamiliar with my church, our third book of scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants, is an ongoing book of revelations in which sections are added periodically to reflect on new revelations, such as 1984's controversial Section 156, which allowed women to serve in priesthood roles. We lost 50,000 members--which is 20% of our church body--over that revelation). Section 163 is very powerful, as part of it talks about not using Scriptures to divide people.

I'm not familiar with the term, "Uncommon Devotion", so I had to think over the previous week what I would share about it. The service was much better than I thought it would be. Near the beginning was a section with vignettes, featuring three individuals. One had a sign that indicated to the congregation that the person was a Child Soldier. I forget what the sign said, but several of us went up in groups, acting out various people who see such signs and either walk past, or take pictures as if the person was a tourist sight (my favourite one, which got some laughs), and then two people embracing the child soldier and walking off with arms around one another. The second scenario was a person who was gay. I played the role of a Bible Thumper, which I loved. I walked up to the person carrying that sign with a puffed up walk (inspired by our own president, G.W. Bush) and pointing to the Bible; another group walked up and pretended to look for a fight, then another group approached and one grabbed the Bible away from me to show alternate scriptures, to which I left in angry disappointment. Third scenario, I played a father, and Rachel the mother to a young lady considering an abortion. We pantomimed yelling and frustration before walking off with the "mother" in tears and me trying to comfort her. Then the woman considering abortion was embraced by another group of people, representative of true Christians.

After this vignettes segment, Black Eyed Peas song "Where is the Love?" played and as I listened to the lyrics, I thought how well it fit, since it was actually the third choice song (Everlast's "What It's Like" was the original song choice but the profanities made it inappropriate for church service; Gary Jules "Mad World" was second choice but the lyrics didn't really fit what we were trying to convey in the service). So, it turned out well.

Instead of a sermon or testimonies, we had a panel of four people to answer four questions. I was one of the ones on the panel (which also included Shannon McAdam, the pastor of Vancouver BC Community of Christ congregation; Allyson of Puyallup WA; and Jarom of Salem OR). The questions were: "What does uncommon devotion mean to you?", "How do you see the church live out it's uncommon devotion?", "How do you live out your uncommon devotion?" and "What more can you do to live out your uncommon devotion?"

After church, we had potluck with good conversations with Canadian church members. One man even approached me to thank me for what I said about what uncommon devotion means to me. I had said in the service that what I love most about our church is that I had never heard anyone put down another religion from the pulpit as I have in other churches (mostly the evangelical ones), yet sometimes in personal conversations, if I mention an interest in studying the ideas of non-Christian religions, like Buddhism, that church members will try to make it an issue when it shouldn't be. I said that we should be secure enough in our religious views to not be threatened by ideas that didn't originate in our church or even within Christianity. That even Buddhism could offer a new way at looking at our own beliefs and enhance it.

When we drove back towards the border, we offered a prayer of thanks for the great weekend as well as praying that the border guard going into the U.S. would be easy on us. We had no wait and we got a female guard (which we were all hoping for). She only asked four questions: the purpose of our trip, where we were from, how long we stayed, and one that I forget now. But that was it. She let us go through with miminal fuss. We couldn't believe it and we even laughed about it. Did God answer a prayer? I had asked Rachel what she thought and I liked her answer: God blessed our request because we had all made the commitment to go to Vancouver to put on a service that might touch people's hearts. Three of us had wavered on going to Vancouver just a few days prior. But I'm glad we all decided to go. It was simply another great weekend in my life. I've had so many of them lately. And I'm thankful to God for His continued blessings!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Questions for Romney

I guess the Rom-man is a "favourite son" after all. Michigan Republicans made him the winner of their state's primary, giving him (as he'd like to say) another Gold (for a total of two Golds and two Silvers). Darn those Grosse Point Republicans! Why'd they have to do a thing like that? McCain won in 2000, and I was hoping he'd put an end to Romney's candidacy in Michigan.

What this proves is that the American people really are divided. In both parties, people in different states are making each candidate a winner. No more coronations this year. Very interesting.

Since Mitt likes to open up his "town hall meetings" by allowing people to ask him anything...anything at is my list of seven questions I'd love to ask him (as part of my "Fun Friday List or Survey").

1. What do you really believe? I find it incredible that in your first year out of the Governor's job in liberal Massachusetts that you have completely changed your view on abortion, gun control, immigration, and gay rights. Why? Because I'm 36 and my political views have changed little since I started forming them at age 16 or so. I was liberal then and if anything have gotten more liberal in the years since, especially on the issue of gays (I went from a homophobic high school student to one who has no problem if they want to marry, raise children, run for political office, serve openly in the military, and even hold a priesthood office in my church). There's nothing wrong with turning conservative (my fingers are crossed!)...but to go retro on four major issues on your way from the governor's mansion to a presidential run? I find it disingenuous.

2. You helped turn around the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics from the scandal of financial improprieties (bribing International Olympic Committee members to vote for Salt Lake City as the host city for 2002 Winter Games). If you are our next president, will you promise to open up investigations into the financial improprieties regarding the war in Iraq and the reconstruction of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans? Even if this means investigating major financial backers of your political party? This would be Halliburton, Bechtel, Kellogg Brown and Root, and Blackwater. This would also mean the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. If you will not launch investigations, why not?

3. You have five sons, who all served missions for your church like the good members that they are. However, serving your religion is not the same as serving our country. None of them have served or are serving in Iraq, which is a war that you support the continuation of. If you are elected as our next president, are you willing to have one of your sons serve in Iraq on a year long rotation? This means that if you only serve one term, one son will be spared duty in Iraq, but if you have two terms, then three of your sons will have two tours of duty. If you are not willing to have any of them serve in Iraq, a war that you support, why not?

4. You said that waterboarding is not torture. If you really believe that, which son are you willing to volunteer for a demonstration? And after hearing him cry out for fear of death, are you willing to stand by and watch it happen and still insist that it's not torture? Really?

5. In 1978, your church changed its policy regarding it's long-held ban on black men holding the priesthood. Was this policy something you supported before 1978 or something you were working to change? If you only changed your view after 1978, did the change come about after personal reflection or because it was directed by the prophet and you complied? The reason why I ask is because if you are president and your prophet Gordon B. Hinckley tells you that corporations have too much power and influence in our government and need to be restricted from lobbying, would you obey your prophet or your corporate handlers?

6. Do you believe that polygamy is still "the everlasting covenant" that you will participate in when you go to celestial glory? If you have no problem with polygamy, why criticize Giuliani, McCain, and Thompson for their multiple wives (granted, they were divorced from previous spouses, but still...)?

7. What do you believe about the events of Nauvoo? Was Joseph Smith obedient to the end of his life, or did his doctrines stray from the original revelations? The reason I ask is because Mormons believe that "God would never allow the prophet to lead the church astray. If one did, he would be taken out." And they don't mean "out to lunch"! I have always found it interesting that all the LDS prophets since Joseph Smith have lived to old age. Joseph was killed at 39. Doesn't it strike you as something that he was indeed "taken out" after all the controversies in Nauvoo? I mean, the running for president, the formation of a militia, the suppression of a free press, the introduction of polygamy, and the blatant copying of Masonic Temple all seems like he kind of lost God's protection there, doesn't it? I'm just sayin' know? Things that make you go hmmmmmmmmmmmm....

Romney is clapping because he never has to face these kind of questions from our compliant media that prefers to view politics like a sporting event than getting a true sense of each candidate's guiding personal philosophy. But, we can dream, can't we?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

American Idle

Last year's Idols relinquish their crowns to the new batch of talentless fame-chasers. Meanwhile, Bush's reign as the tone-deaf prez-uh-dint enters its final year on Sunday. God help us!

What would January be without a new installment of American Idol, which was so lame last year that it seemed like the show's demise is imminent. I'm not as excited about this season and I think most Americans are "Idoled-out". The show has gone on too long. Carrie Underwood was the last winner to sell more than a million copies of her debut CD. Sean told me recently that Simon's record label has dropped Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, and Reuben Studdard from the record label. That's two Idol winners and one runner up! What the heck happened?

Well, according to Taylor Hicks' Myspace page, he claims that it was a mutual separation but I am highly skeptical about that spin. Hicks has been performing all over the South since he dropped out of college. His win on 2006's American Idol was a dream come true for him. He had self-produced and distributed two CDs. The win guaranteed a record deal with a major label. However, I've read that he was difficult to work with, as unnamed sources were quoted in one article that if Hicks was all that good, why wasn't he able to land a record deal earlier? There were creative differences on his CD, but I don't know what they could have been. I thought it was a great CD. Now, I think his being dropped from Simon's record label might kill his career (though there's always a career option as a lounge king in Vegas). Would it have been so bad to listen to what Clive Davis suggested? He's a hit-master. He discovered and nurtured Whitney Houston! He has a proven track record, as first Idol Kelly Clarkston can attest when her second CD proved a massive hit. When Clarkston wanted more control on her third CD, "My December", it bombed. Do these reality show contestants really think they know the industry better than someone like Clive Davis? Listen to the man if they want a long-term career.

So, it's goodbye to Taylor Hicks and the runner up Katharine McPhee (who I think would make a better actress anyway). Even Reuben Studdard is gone after a couple CDs. I suppose it's inevitable. As new seasons of the show continue on, the old alumni are soon forgotten. Does anyone really remember Justin Guarini or Tamyra Grey? Even the winner and runner up last year, Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis respectively, have released CDs to little fanfare. Neither has made it to Gold (for selling half a million copies) yet. I have Blake Lewis' CD ("Audio Day Dream") and it's okay. Not bad, but not a knockout either. I wish that his version of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" was on the disc. It was such a memorable performance on the show. And that's the problem, I think. No one wants to hear their original music, but the ones they performed on the show.

I'm still waiting for Melinda Doolittle's CD to come out. She was the real deal last year. I'm curious about her true music style, which the debut CD never fails to reveal. I saw her as a cross between Gladys Knight and Tina Turner. Plus, she had an authentic sweetness to her. Heck, I'd date her too (see the post "Something New").

It's fascinating to me that fourth runner up Chris Daughtry has been one of the more successful Idol finalists, with his CD not only outselling the ones put out by the top three contenders who beat him, but was also one of the top selling CDs of the year, period. He even dissed the show in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Because he's more hard rocker than Idol pop, I think his career is safe. He'd be a great front man for Van Halen if that band has a falling out again with David Lee Roth (always a strong possibility).

But, all in all, as I reflect on the new season, I must say that I'll probably not watch it as regularly as I did previous years. I'm more interested in the other "reality show competition" that'll continue through the spring. Of course I'm talking about our Primary election process. It's far more interesting, with all the back and forth on who would best fulfill MLK and JFK's legacies on the Democratic side; and who is the true Reagan heir on the Republican side; with Democrats ignoring the immigration debate and Republicans out talking one another about who would build a better wall to keep immigrants out of the country. It's all crazier stuff than anything American Idol can toss at you. And I do mean Sanjaya included.

The gorgeous Katharine McPhee with winner Taylor Hicks

The final four in Season 5 (the best season): Elliott Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Katharine McPhee, and Taylor Hicks

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Political Affairs

Well, isn't it interesting that ten years after "l'affaire Monica" that our country went through, France's president Nicolas Sarkozy is causing a scandal of his own by dating another leggy model after his previous one left him because of his "serial adultery." Who would've thought that a politician having a mistress would ever be a scandal in France?

I've been wanting to reflect on the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal, because I can't believe that it has been ten years now. I first heard about it by reading a short article on the front page of BYU's student newspaper, The Daily Universe. Because I was familiar with it's anti-Clintonism since I started in the fall semester (I saved a cartoon that was featured during the start of the school year in which a student is nervously talking on the phone about his new roommate who is hanging a sign that said "Clinton isn't all bad."), I dismissed the article as yet another example of their relentless attack on Clinton with whatever cheap shot they could get in.

When I watched the news later that evening, it confirmed that a former White House intern was under investigation for having a sexual relationship with the president. I forget how the facts leaked out before it became THE story of the year. In fact, I remember very little about 1998 other than that it was the year of "All Monica, All the Time!"

The story broke on the infamous "Drudge Report" and made the creator of the website a darling "journalist" of the right, practically overnight. The scandal really hit me hard, because it was my worst fear about Clinton coming to light. In 1992, I supported Senator Bob Kerrey in the primary, then switched to Jerry "Governor Moonbeam" Brown, then to Ross Perot. It wasn't until Clinton selected Senator Gore did he win my vote in the fall 1992 election. I remember during the lead up to the New Hampshire primary that I had a problem with the woman thing. I didn't totally buy his statement that the problems in their marriage was worked out. Obviously, it wasn't. He lost a lot of credibility and I wanted him to resign (mostly so Gore could become president sooner and work to put the Clinton years behind us). The whole year, I was tormented by the details, by the media's obsession with the story, by each new revelation, by Ken Starr's gestapo-like tactics, by sanctimonious Republicans falling over themselves to demand impeachment (even though it later turned out that many of them had mistresses of their own at that time), and by how it all looked to the rest of the world. Obviously, the scandal proved a distraction as Saddam started acting up like a child does when parents are distracted, and Osama Bin Laden made his presence as a threat known with the East Africa Embassy bombings.

The biggest impact the Monica Lewinsky scandal caused in my life was that I was deeply offended that a flaky, sex-obsessed, non-political celebrity-wannabe could be selected as a White House intern. I had planned to spend a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia for fall semester 1999. But seeing such a "bimbo" get a prestigious internship made me want to get one, since I was serious about politics and wanted a career in that field. Because of Monica, I have her to thank for my great experience in DC with fellow BYU students, and for seeing my dream come partially true (that I would one day work for Al Gore, as I had wanted since they were elected in 1992). Of course, on a negative note, it was her actions that contributed to the election fiasco of 2000. Without the scandal, Gore would've won a decisive victory.

She also ruined the reputation of a White House internship. What was once prestigious became the butt of many jokes. If I got such ribbing as a male intern, I can't imagine what it was like for the female interns. When people find out about my internship, inevitably the first question asked was if I knew Monica. Nope. She served her internship when I was still in the Navy. I remember the whole government shut down of 1995, because I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia on the USS George Washington. Who knew while we were doing sea exercises that in the White House, Monica was doing her own exercises with the president?

She now lives in Portland and it's my hope to bump into her someday soon. I wouldn't joke about her like I used to, but I'd simply like to know if she was ever serious about politics. I hate to think that her sole purpose in securing a White House internship was to "earn her presidential knee-pads" as she reportedly had claimed. Personally, I think she should hook up with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. She loves to wear berets and I'm sure he'd appreciate her infamous skill. Okay, I'm bad. She deserves better than such crude joking. Then again, she ruined too many careers, so she should have to live with her actions. Truthfully, her biggest mistake was trusting Linda Tripp. That's a lesson we can all learn!

The infamous hug between a president and an intern (eerily resembling a scene in the film "Wag the Dog" that was released before the scandal broke)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Something New

I finally watched the film "Something New." It came out two years ago and I remember seeing the trailers and wanting to see it, then I forgot all about it until just recently.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, but I was interested in how they portrayed interracial dating. In 1993, there was a lot of hoopla about the "interracial romance" between Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard", but it was pretty much watered down and lacking explosive chemistry. Besides, there was a controversy about how the makers of that film played down the interracial aspect with it's poster art in which Whitney Houston was obscured, as though audiences were too dumb to realize since she came on the music scene in 1985 that she's black and Kevin Costner is white. That's Hollywood for you!

"Something New" is something new indeed! I was surprised how good the film was. It works on so many levels. It's a well-layered film with a positive message about "equal opportunity dating." The perspective focuses on Kenya Denise McQueen, a white-collar accountant executive for a corporate firm who is being considered as partner. In her work, she has to deal with white executive clients who think of her more as a secretary than an executive capable of handling accounts. Her group of friends are all "black urban professionals" and over dinner where they commiserate over dating woes and the statistic that 40% or so of professional black women have never been married by their forties. Think Anita Hill and Condoleeza Rice...both smart, beautiful black professionals who've never been married (if only they were in my age group!). I have my theories on why, but I won't get into it here. In the film, it's interesting to see that after Ms. McQueen is set up on a blind date with a white guy, she feels insulted because she wants a good black man and won't consider dating outside her race. Even her friends and family are making issue of the fact that she'd actually entertain the thought of dating a white man. The only one who doesn't have a problem with interracial dating is Brian, the white landscape architect. What ensues is his romance of her, gently breaking down her barriers to reach her heart. It's a great romantic film that shows the process of falling in love with someone you wouldn't even think of having a relationship with. It's well done that way.

What really amazes me about the film is that Brian is a lot like me. He's one of the rare individuals who is "color blind" when it comes to dating. In one scene, he's driving his SUV, blasting his music, which sounds middle eastern (I loved that song!). He also has a Golden Retriever named Max (that's always been my dream dog). He's a very free-spirited guy who lets love happen and ironically brings "color" into Kenya McQueen's life (she has a preference for beige). In a way, it turns the cliche on its head: a colorless corporate clone meets and falls for a colorful, free-spirited individualist. If only that were true in real life, we'd have a true revolution on our hands (think: what if Enron had met Google; or if George W. Bush had fallen in love with Cyndi Lauper). I suppose it has former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen and his beautiful African American wife, Janet Langhart (whom I was smitten by when I saw her 8 years ago the night of the State of the Union) wrote about in their memoir.

I really loved "Something New." It made me think of my own dating life. I have dated Asian, African American, White, and Hispanic ladies. In the past when I have placed a personal ad, I've never put down race. If invited on a blind date, I wouldn't ask about race because I'd love to be surprised. It truly is liberating to be an "equal opportunity dater." I haven't always been that way. What changed for me was when my family moved to Atlanta, Georgia at the start of my junior year in high school. Atlanta has a huge African American population and my high school was divided at the time 40% white, 40% black, and 20% Asian. And for the first time that I could remember, there were a couple African American girls that I had found attractive.

When I was in the Navy, I was annoyed to hear guys say that they had no problem with "having sex with a black chick" but they'd sure as hell never marry one. Why not, I'd ask. Many guys had crushes on Halle Berry. She is a beautiful woman, a product of an interracial marriage. Senator Barack Obama is a product of an interracial marriage. As am I (though people do seem slightly more accepting of marriages between white men and Asian women). So, I don't know what the issue is for people. I am someone who still doesn't know what ethnicity my future wife will be. I find women in all races attractive, and I am a sucker for an accent anyway. While I'd love to meet and marry a Hispanic lady (partly to diversify the gene pool in my family; partly because I find it sexy when Hispanic women speak Spanish super fast, like Shakira), I'm not going to limit myself. I'm open to whatever comes my way. Thus, I was pleased to see the film "Something New" promote the idea that people should feel free to fall in love with whomever they feel a deep connection to, regardless of what their family, friends, or ethnic group says.

And speaking of interracial love, I wish Hillary and Obama would knock it off on the veiled and not-so-veiled statements about Martin Luther King vs Lyndon B. Johnson, of fairy tales and drug usage, of race baiting and condescending pandering to a core constituency group in the Democratic Party. It's all good that this party continues to prove its progressive values in having historic campaigns in which we could very well have our first woman president or our first African American president. Where's the love, y'all? Let's hug, kiss, make up, and maybe we can get Hillary and Barack to sit down and watch "Something New" together. Both campaigns would offer something new to the American political scene. Let's not destroy ourselves for the crusty, old white male Republican to later come in and take advantage of. This election will make history so what are they fighting for?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Three Amigos

Janell and I (with Jeff casually chillin' out)

I probably posted this photo before (taken by Brooklyn Cook after the Washington Seminar program ended and lifted from her blog). In honour of the eighth anniversary of our BYU Seminar's first Friday class (on January 14, 2000), I wanted to reflect on what was the start of "the Three Amigos" (Janell, Matt--who's not pictured, and I). I had first met Janell sometime during the week on the Van Dorn Metro platform waiting for the subway to take us to the Capitol building. She had approached me and started a conversation, which I appreciated since I tend to be horribly bad at initiating small talk with complete strangers (I do better if I know info about a person in advance).

Anyhow, when we broke for lunch (and for the day, if I remember correctly) after that first Friday class day in the Eastern Market area of DC, Matt, Janell, one other girl, and I went to a restaurant in that neighbourhood. I had a Portobello burger for the first time and it was great. What I remember in that conversation over lunch was that I was the only non-Mormon in that group of four, but for the first time among Mormons, I wasn't the "odd person out." No, that would be the young lady whose name I've long forgotten. Afterwards, Matt told me his impression of her, and it was similar to how I saw her: that she would be a prim and proper wife to an affluent person of business or politics, that she would spend her day planning dinner parties and doing volunteer work. You know the type. In the Memory Book I put together later in the semester, her personal profile validated our impression when she had indicated that she had majored in Political Science because she believed it would give her knowledge to hold interesting dinner conversations (or something of that sort).

What united the three of us (Matt, Janell, and I) was that the odd lady out said that she supported Governor Bush's campaign for president because she liked his "compassionate conservativism." I think I nearly spit out my drink or choked on my food when I heard that. That was the biggest oxymoron I had ever heard and I couldn't believe that people actually bought into it, but apparently this prim and proper lady did.

Since I'm big on anniversary dates, I wanted to remember that day. What started as a simple lunch with people I was starting to get to know became the first moment I had found my core group of friends for the semester. It's amazing how things turn out. I'm glad to have remained in contact with Matt and Janell in the years since, and see during my visit to their respective homes last October the common thread that unites us all (the similarities of books we owned, for one thing; our vast travel experiences for another; and our shared political views). It's nice to know that eight years after that fateful lunch, we're still the same kind of people. None of us have gone conservative or become Bush disciples. I sometimes wonder what happened to the odd lady out, though. Is she happy with her president? Is she a high society wife now? Has her political science degree come in handy for all those fabulous dinner parties she planned to have?'s nice to reflect on the beginning of "the Three Amigos." That core friendship helped make the Washington Seminar semester the best it could possibly be for me. I had wavered on the idea of living with BYU students (I tried and failed to find a room to rent with a DC area church member, but I was glad that I couldn't find alternate housing so that I could experience the evenings and weekends with the other BYU interns, just hanging out or going off sightseeing). It's proof that things often happen for a reason, or at least that there is a wisdom greater than I that leads me to the people who will be my closest friends. I suppose someday, I'll even be nostalgic for the MAYAs group and all our fun activities of the past year. I've learned to enjoy things while they happen because we live in a constantly changing world and the time we spend with others whose company we enjoy are the best times of all.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Way I Are

I decided to answer the "challenge" of Sean's and of Mike's meme to list six quirks or facts people don't know about you. I will post on my awesome weekend soon (once I get some cool photos that people have taken of the weekend). For now, enjoy my self-revealing list...the quirks that make me who I am today. The post title comes from a song that I currently like, "The Way I Are".

1. When I was 3 years old, I was brainwashed by Communists in the Philippines.

Sad, but true. My dad was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines for two years and some of my earliest childhood memories were of when we lived there. However, I don't remember the incident when we returned to the U.S. and I had sung a song (as we boarded the plane) with lyrics such as: "Big, fat ugly Americans..." My parents were horrified, but figured that it was the result of my attending a multi-national nursery school with subversive Philippino teachers. It seems funny in retrospect, especially since I've been called a "commie" all my life by raging conservatives. Old habits die hard, comrade!

2. In the fifth grade, I once trashed a whole classroom after being picked on by a bully at recess under the gazing eye of a teacher.

In elementary school, I always, always hated recess because that was when the bully would strike. Teachers were off in the distance monitoring, but most of the time, they could have been on Mars for all the good it did. In the fifth grade, I got so mad one day about being picked on that I went into an empty classroom that already had chairs on top the desks and started knocking off all the chairs. A teacher heard the commotion down the hall and rushed into the room. I thought I was going to be in trouble, but instead of sending me to the principle's office, she simply listened to me, empathized with me, and suggested that I take up karate. I never did take karate, but I was struck by a few things with that incident: (1) the response of the teacher to talk it out with me instead of punishing me; and (2) I was aware of my own "power" in which I could get away with things other people wouldn't be able to get away with. Not that I would take advantage of that, but it made me more cautious about how I acted because I was embarrassed to have been caught in a rare moment of temper.

3. I've been writing letters since I was 8 years old.

In the second grade, my recess play partner was a girl named Sharon Dunn, who was probably "my first girlfriend." She and I would play with each other exclusively at recess and pretend to operate an ice cream stand. We had a lot of good conversations and she even introduced me to hermit crabs (she had one as a pet). When I moved to Hill AFB, Utah after that year, she and I kept in touch and she was my first penpal. We lost touch in 1984 or so. That meant that we wrote letters to each other from grades 3 through 6. I often wonder what happened to her. When I was a senior, I tried to reconnect with her, but my letter was returned with an indication that the forwarding address had long expired.

4. I almost joined the Mormon church in 1994 when I was 22 years old.

I was living in Italy then, lonely for good friendship, and tired of the sailor stereotypes in the people I worked with. The Mormon church happened to have set up an apartment for two missionaries in the town I lived in (La Maddalena, Sardinia). Because I hadn't been to an RLDS congregation for several years, I was eager to reconnect with my faith movement, or the closest equivalent. So I met with the missionaries and became more and more excited about joining the LDS church. When they challenged me to get baptized and asked me to pray about it, I did as they requested. The response I received was the equivalent of a cold shower. It was one of the clearest messages I've ever gotten in a prayer request for a decision. God told me not to join the LDS church, that He had work for me to do with the RLDS church and that if I remained in the church, I would see the benefit years later. When the missionaries asked about my prayer, I told them about the answer I had received and they said that I was "praying wrong." That irked me, because I had never gotten such a clear answer like that before. A few months later, I met a fellow sailor who was also RLDS and felt like he was the brother I had always wanted. Since then, I've had many more wonderful experiences within my faith community and am grateful that I listened to the wisdom that is greater than I, rather than go along with the high-pressure sales tactic of the missionaries.

Interestingly enough, in my first or second semester at BYU (in 1997 or 1998), I bumped into one of the missionaries on campus. He was surprised to see me at BYU. What was even more surprising was that he had said to me, "you never joined our church, did you?" I was stunned that he would say that since I was a student at BYU. The safest assumption to make was that I had joined the LDS church, thus why I was attending BYU, but somehow, he knew. Weird.

**I would like to also point out that just because I was "told" not to join the LDS church is not meant to be an indication that the LDS church is somehow not true or that the members of the LDS church are in the wrong church. It simply means that God who knows the future, knew what I didn't at the time. That if I remained in the church of my family heritage, I would meet fellow church members who are interconnected to my family and friends within the church, and through that experience of interconnectedness in our faith community, it would help me on my faith journey to realize the deeper truth that we are all connected spiritually, despite our differences in race, religion, gender, and other means of separation.

5. In the third grade, one writing assignment was to describe our life at age 30 and I saw myself living in Japan.

Each year in elementary school, I would go into a "country craze" where I would check out books on a certain country and learn everything about them. Part of my imagination would be to pretend that I was a person from that country and wonder how I would live and what my wife would be like. In the first grade, my country craze was the Soviet Union (see where the Philippino communists trained me well?). In the second grade, it was Germany; in the third grade -- Japan; fourth grade -- the UK; fifth grade -- Australia; and sixth grade -- France.

I'm not as big on Japan as I once was, but it was strange when I turned 30 and realize that I wasn't living in Japan with a Japanese wife like I had thought about at age 8.

6. My writings were always more popular than me

Since elementary school through high school, whenever a teacher read stories that people in the class wrote, mine stood out and people were able to guess which ones were mine because they were always so different from the other students. I remember one in particular in the fifth grade. I had my characters going off to India and Australia; and I remember overhearing a student say something like "That had to be Nicholas' story because who else would write about India?" I was embarrassed to be singled out. By high school, my writings won student awards and whenever we had visiting students from another school in the 8th grade, classmates would tell them to read my creative writing journal. When I asked afterwards why they did that because I didn't like the attention, they told me that they had hoped that my stories would impress the other students into thinking highly of our school. I thought that was odd, but I was honored. And in the eleventh grade, instead of listening to my crazy Chemistry teacher, I would write my screenplay about an incompetent but funny CIA agent who aspired to be James Bond. Students in desks around me would pester me about wanting to read my screenplays.

What can I say? I was a born writer. Oh, to land a literary agent! One of my ongoing goals each year, even as I also seek other employment as well.

That's me in a nutshell. I challenge those reading this to add to the meme by blogging about their 6 unknown facts/quirks/character traits.