Monday, March 31, 2008

Look Who's Sixty

Here's an example of following my intuitive hunch...last night, I was watching the film "Michael Clayton" when I decided to stop the DVD to see what "60 Minutes" stories were featured (I usually forget when it's on tv). I clicked to the channel just in time to catch the beginning when they mention that show's feature stories...which included one about a German citizen of Turkish heritage who was captured in Pakistan and sold to the American military as an "al-Qaeda operative" where he ended up being tortured and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for five years and ultimately released when our government finally admitted that they had no evidence of the man ever being involved with al Qaeda (a story to anger anyone who believes in justice and the U.S. Constitution and is alarmed by our government's increasing desire to make the Nazi regime look compassionate in comparison). The second story was on Al Gore and his latest plan to increase awareness for climate change.

So of course "Michael Clayton" was going to have to wait. This was can't miss. After being outraged by the unjust detainment of a German citizen in our reckless "war" on terror, I'm glad they featured the segment on Gore, which is inspirational. As seem mandatory in the media these days, the segment reminded viewers of the pains of the 2000 election and Gore's search for a new life in its aftermath. He admitted going through the steps of shock, denial, anger, and finally acceptance but didn't want to go back there by adding details. He has definitely moved on and I wish the media would as well. In the interview segment, his wife Tipper was by his side and what a remarkable woman she is. He probably would've never survived the devastating pains of the 2000 election without her. Their marriage continues to impress me. They are so unlike the Clintons and the Bushes that its refreshing to see them interact together. To me, that's what true love looks like.

Gore's latest plan is to air commercials on television about climate change, urging everyone that the time to act is now, with renewed urgency. He has even recruited a wide range of people for these "public service announcements" to star in "odd couple" pairings: the reverent Al Sharpton and the irreverent Pat Robertson in one, current Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (!) in another. These commercials will come to a TV screen near you in April (one will air during "American Idol" on Wednesday).

He was asked if he still had presidential ambitions. While there's talk that Democrats might turn to him if neither Hillary or Barack can unify the party, he wouldn't say who he supported and admitted that he has fallen out of love with politics. He is a man who has found his life's calling and work. I believe when all is said and done, he will be vindicated in history and his story will be an example of how one can do more good for the planet as a private citizen than as president.

He turns 60 today, so with that, I wanted to wish him a very happy birthday. He's still the politician I most admire. May he continue to find success raising awareness in the people on this planet of our responsibility to protect the environment for future generations. His calling could almost be called Biblical or prophetic. Here's to a great man on his sixth decade of life.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fork in the Road

With the growing despair over my current job (the low wages, the uninteresting and uninspiring work, the fact that I did not get a degree in International Politics to end up working in something so far from my true passion), I've often wondered where I went wrong. What choices have I made that led me to where I am now? Honestly, I've been contemplating going off on a new adventure in Afghanistan as a private contractor, partly because the money would pay off my student loans and other debt as well as put enough money into savings that I could finally get my dream month-long vacation in Australia, my dream car (Scion tC), and grad school. And a year in Afghanistan would be closer in line with my passion for international politics than my current job. When I was in college, the thought of "nation building" was an exciting proposition (and candidate Bush criticized it as "arrogant" in the 2000 elections, so look how he couldn't even keep that promise to not "nation build"!) The way I see it...I am again coming on a choice of two roads. The current road leads to spiritual and career death. But which road brings me closer in line to what I was born to do in this world?

March has been a somewhat difficult month for me, but also a blessing. It started with such an amazing "bang," as I finally got my intuition back in a big way. I followed several "hunches" (intuitive guidance) that have paid off and with great feeling afterwards. I remember what it felt like to "be in the flow" of life and it felt great! Honestly, I hadn't felt a flow in life since my days as Gore's intern in Washington D.C. Even though I didn't get paid for the internship, it remains the closest I've ever come to career bliss where everything was right in the universe. I have my theories on where things went wrong and perhaps it was a mistake to leave D.C. when I did, and perhaps I should've moved back to D.C. two years ago (had I known that the Democrats would retake control of Congress and that one of my best friends would end up living there, I probably would've moved there).

And has a funny way of working out. I just returned from the Young Adult Retreat this afternoon at the church campgrounds on the Lewis River in Washington. We stayed in the lodge and got a great view of the snow fall, which later turned to rain, and then the sun came out. On Saturday afternoon when the rain was light, I went out for a walk to explore this campground for the first time and was amazed by the beauty and reminded of what it was about this part of the country that made me want to move out here to settle.

Rain doesn't bother me and never has. My teenage years living in Germany spoiled me because when I first traveled to Washington and Oregon in 1999, the first thing that this part of the country reminded me of was of Germany. The moderate temperatures (not too hot in summer nor too cold in winter) was another selling point. But for me, it's the kind of trees that are plentiful out here, the forests, hills, mountains, and Pacific Ocean that made me want to claim this part of the country for myself and my future. I finally found a home to call my own after a life on the road.

Now home has to provide me with a job with a livable wage, where my passion for politics or international relations/cultures or sustainable living or public transit/rail will be part of what I do. Since we spend most of our time at work, it makes sense that one should work where one is most passionate, so why's it so hard to find that? Since I've been out here, I've never experienced anything like this before. The job market is about the only thing wrong with the quality of life out here. Even in that candidates forum last week, several candidates mentioned the reputation Portland has of being "un-business-friendly" and maybe that's why wages are so depressed around here. It's not like the cost of living is less than a city like Atlanta, but pro-business Atlanta had plenty of well paid jobs and it was a seeker's job market. Portland is the opposite, but I have faith that it'll pull through. But, if I don't get a better paying job closer in my passion for government or international affairs, I'm not afraid to say that the allure of adventure in Afghanistan will become too strong to resist.

I'll write more on the retreat for Wednesday's post. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Funny Animal Photos

It's been awhile since I've done a "Fun Friday" post, so for today, I wanted to post some photos I found on a Google image search that I find hilarious. The one above, I can't help it. I find cows to be a completely funny creature and I love dolphins. That photo got my eye, and I'm not even sure how it came up in a Google image search. I wasn't looking up either dolphins or cows. Honest.

Cats are funny animals. My brother has two of them and they are fun to watch. What's even more amusing is the grammatically incorrect statement above. I love it. Great caption for the photo too.

Wookiees playing baseball? I wonder if this actually happened or if it's a fake photo. Again, I don't know how it came up in a Google image search. It's always interesting to see what comes up when you look for an image on Google to use on my blog. I save ones that capture my fancy.

I'm not being mean here. Haven't you heard of RINO? No, not the African animal that you don't want to get in front of. RINO. As in "Republican In Name Only." That's the term given to Republicans who act like Democrats. Though take it from a Democrat, that's nearly an impossible feat. After all, all three of the above Republicans have pretty much tried to paint Democrats as "weak on terrorism." When have you heard a Republican-sounding Democrat criticize a Republican? They don't. They attack fellow Democrats. Don't believe me? Remember Georgia's Democratic Senator Zell Miller's angry screed at the Democratic Party at the 2004 Republican National Convention? How about Senator Joseph Lieberman's endorsement of John McCain for President this year? If any of those three men pictured above were true RINOs, they would be attacking their own party, not the Democrats. Just because they try to sound Democratic on health care, equality, and campaign finance reform doesn't make them RINOs. But I will concur that they are about as amoral as animals.

Sorry. I can't help myself. Bush looks like a dancing monkey. Often acts like one too.

Have a nice weekend. Good news. There won't be a blog post until Monday. I'm off to a much needed spiritual retreat somewhere in southwestern Washington. It couldn't come at a better time. I'm so in need of the spiritual uplift lately. See you on Monday.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Portland Candidates Forum

Last night, I attended a forum for all candidates running for Mayor, City Commissioner (three of the four are up for election this year due to the resignation of Commissioner Erik Sten), and Multnomah County Commissioner. There were more candidates on the podium than politically-interested voters to hear them (if you take away the various campaign volunteers, the turn-out was dismally disappointing). I went in support of Sam Adams, but also to see his opponents as well as the various candidates running for the City Commissioner positions. The forum turned out to be three hours long, and I had come straight from work without eating supper. I ended up getting a headache halfway through, so sitting through it turned into a nauseating experience. I don't blame the candidates for that. The organizers could've done a better job.

First, it was poorly advertised. I had only seen it in an ad I happened to come across last week, but I couldn't find the ad again nor found any info online. So...bad publicity led to poor turnout.

Second, they had way too many candidates to ask many questions to. If I organized the forum, I'd run two of them. One for the mayoral candidates, another for the County and City Commissioners. They probably only got to ask between eight and ten questions, with anywhere from ten to fifteen people answering each one. That is just too much information to keep track of.

Third, three hours is way too long for something like this. Two hours tops.

Portland's City Hall

That's not to say that I didn't learn anything. I was interested in the responses. Some candidates were more limelight hoggers than others (particularly Harold C. Williams Two, who's running for one of the City Commissioner positions--though I like his idea to rename NE Portland as "the Diamond District" to market the neighborhood in a way that benefitted NW's trendy Pearl District).

For the mayor's race, there were 9 candidates, including a 21 year old guy who looks like a slacker/skater dude straight out of a Gus Van Sant film. His primary issue is that he hates landlords and wants to abolish the whole landlord/renter relationship by making renters owners. Um, yeah. Good luck with that one! I detect that maybe he has some pressing landlord issues in his recent past.

Another mayoral candidate wants to make Portland into Houston by having the city of Portland absorb all suburbs and make the whole metro area (from Hillsboro in the west to Gresham in the east) Portland. He said that when you first enter the city limits of Houston, Texas, you won't get to the downtown until an hour later! So, what does this accomplish? Supposedly less government to deal with. But we all know about Houston. It's in a competition with Los Angeles to be the most polluted city in America. I say let's not be Houston. That is hardly the model city for Portland to emulate. And my opinion is that Portland needs to be a leader, not an emulater. Portland needs to lead the way in sustainable development, environmental-friendly technology and services, and best quality of life. Chicago is leading the way in the greening of the city, but Portland can easily overtake that.

One mayoral candidate said that she thinks she'll be a great mayor because she raised a daughter on her own and successfully saw her daughter through Portland Public Schools onto a local college for a degree. So, success in parenting supposedly indicates that she'd be equally successful as mayor. That's actually sweet that she thinks that, but...I'm not convinced.

Another mayoral candidate is 26 years old. His views seemed to parrot Sam Adams' views. But what's up with these twentysomethings thinking they have enough experience to run a medium sized city? I'm shocked by the audacity of it. I could see them running for mayor of maybe Troutdale or some small hamlet, but Oregon's largest city? Come on. What I like about Sam Adams is that he has worked himself up to the level of mayor, starting out as a political aide to a Congressman, then helping to elect Democrats to the state legislature, then serving as chief of staff for Mayor Vera Katz in the late 1990s, and finally serving as City Commissioner since 2004. I like how he builds on his experience, showing his talents and competence at each level. The other candidates don't have the proven competence and I suspect ulterior motives in running (like as a fraternity prank for the twentysomethings).

All in all, an interesting (but long) evening that only a true political "junkie" would like. Does that mean I need to attend "Political Junkie Anonymous" now? Oops...I wouldn't be anonymous, though. You all know that I am. One of my best friends (Nathan) once said to me: "You're the only person I know who bases his life on who's running for president." Sad, but true. Only because it was a dream of mine to be a political aide to President Gore. When that didn't happen, I've been struggling to find my life's mission ever since. But man, it's hard to get politics out of my system. Even when I want nothing to do with it (2001-2003 and 2005-2006), I still manage to find my passion for it again. Mark Udall is right. He said that the only cure for presidential ambitions is embalming fluid. I think it also applies to any level of politics.
Isn't Portland gorgeous?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Sanctimonious Sinner

I read an interesting article today. Our beloved president called the leader of China and actually talked human rights, expressing his concern over China's crackdown on protesters in Tibet! Can you imagine the gall, the complete blindness, the absolute lack of self-awareness?!? It's the funniest thing I've read in days. The one who executed over 150 prisoners when he was governor, who allowed torture to become U.S. policy, who waged an illegal war in Iraq with no regard for the lives lost...he actually has the audacity to lecture China on human rights violations! I can imagine the Chinese premier, as soon as he got off the phone with ole Georgie and probably told Communist Party officials: "Guess who that was! Can you believe the president of the United States is lecturing us about human rights?" I'm sure there was much laughter. Our president was always good for a few laughs. The sad thing is, he's often the butt of them.

Recently, a friend of mine remarked, "the problem with electing Democrats is that you don't get morals." I was stunned. And he's no Republican either. He dislikes Bush more vehemently than he disliked Clinton. But still...that was harsh. So I asked him, "do you think a politician should talk about morals if he doesn't abide by them?" Even more shocking, he actually said yes!

Hypocrisy is one of the worst sins you can commit. Why? Because it involves deceit as well as casting blame or condemnation on someone else while conveniently overlooking your own sins. There's a reason for sayings like "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." There's also ample evidence that Jesus found hypocrisy to be worse than the actual sin. After all, he saved a woman caught in the act of adultery from being stoned to death by hypocrites who were just as guilty of the deed. He lost his temper in the Temple when moneychangers were defiling the most holy place with their mercantile ways.

While Clinton is certainly no saint, the impeachment trial against him only proved to me how hypocritical the Republican party is (which has only become more apparent in the years since with people like Bush, Cheney, Senator Craig, Senator Vittel, Congressman Foley, and supporters like Televangelist Ted Haggart and propagandists Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly). Many of the managers of the impeachment hearings and trial were themselves guilty of adultery and lying about it (Henry Hyde, Congressman Livingstone, and the notorious Newt Gingrich). Their current presidential nominee had also committed adultery. And their beloved "America's mayor" is likewise a guilty practitioner of adultery.

Republicans talk so much about morality and yet fail to live up to the standards they set. Democrats tend not to focus on morality because they trust the people to live their own lives by the dictates of their own consciences and religious beliefs. Democrats tend to be free thinking anyway, so it's kind of funny that Republicans and conservatives want to be preached morality by a politician. I sure as hell don't.

To me, it doesn't matter if it's a Democrat or a Republican...if you're a hypocrite and you're exposed in a lie (like Governor Spitzer), resignation is the only way out. Yet Republicans tend to hold Democrats to a higher moral standard than they do themselves. How else to explain Senator David Vittel of Louisiana, who committed adultery with a prostitute and is still in office? Why were Republicans outraged by Spitzer, but willing to turn a blind eye to Vittel? See what I mean about hypocrisy. By holding others to a higher standard than you hold yourself, you only undermine your own credibility. So whenever Republicans talk morality, that only gets me curious about what they are hiding in their past. I love it that a person like Larry Flynt has dedicated his later years to exposing Republican hypocrisy. It might redeem him in the eyes of Jesus from all the smut he peddled over the years.

Back to George. He's "bothered" by the human rights violations in Tibet, but he's still planning to attend the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Another article I read mentioned that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that he plans to dedicate his administration to human rights issues and has hinted that he might have the French Olympic team boycott the opening ceremonies. That's a start. At least he's willing to do something. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen, but damn. Why can't we have a president with some real cojones for once? I'll gladly trade Bush for Sarkozy, even with his recent sex problems.

As I told a fundamentalist Christian lady I once worked with: "I'd rather be a sinner like Clinton than a hypocrite like Gingrich." She was mad at me when I said that, because she loved the lying, adulterer Gingrich even as she complained ad nauseum about Clinton's sex problem.

As far as that's concerned, the Republican party can have all the hypocrites. That's about all that party is good for. I'm just sorry that my friend thinks its a politician's responsibility to push morality on people, even if skeletons are dancing in the closet, waiting for the right moment to expose the truth. The world would be so much better if people sought to rid themselves of hypocrisy than to persecute others for whatever sins they are guilty of. I think Jesus would agree with me on that one.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Mystery of Attention Deficit Disorder

Last week, some friends of mine caravaned into town on their cross-country journey from South Carolina (with stops at Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco before Portland, who knows where on the return). Frank and his wife Jan have two daughters (12 and 9?). They are also raising a foster son (6?) with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. I looked forward to seeing them, but unfortunately fell ill so I couldn't enjoy the visit as much as I wanted to. What I most appreciate about being in their company (besides Frank being the complete opposite of me in a very good way...he is extremely extroverted who has no qualms about talking with anyone about anything, including asking a guy standing next to a building what he's texting as we drive by) is what I learn from their experiences, especially when it comes to parenting.

One thing that shocked me was how calm Will (the foster son) was. He sat so still and quiet, you couldn't tell he was sitting next to me. Last time I saw him two years ago, he couldn't keep still or stop talking, and most of the time it was hard to understand what he was saying. Jan told me that he was on Adderol, the medication that allows people with ADD and ADHD to sit still and focus. She says that when he's not on it, he will constantly destroy things, but on it, he will actually build/create things. When she told me that, I couldn't help but wonder if our president could use some Adderol himself (he has a tendency to destroy things...his family growing up, the two companies he led into bankruptcy, his reserve military "career", other countries, the presidency itself, and the whole country).

I'm really iffy on the whole use of medication for children, but I'm also not a parent, so I can sympathize with the frustration over children in need of constant attention, unable to sit still for long. I'm spoiled in that most of my free time away from work is my own and I don't have to answer to anyone or focus on the needs of another person. I generally spend my time immersed in knowledge, consuming books like mad because I want to learn and understand many complex issues ranging from the personal to the spiritual to the political to the environmental and more. If I had children, I wouldn't be able to do least not without feeling a bit guilty that I could better serve my time by focusing on my wife and child. Yep, life as a single man has its blessings.

Jan recounted to me some of the adventures in raising Will and then said to me, "doesn't it make you excited to be a parent someday?" My response was, "not really." I don't know what kind of parent I'd make. I have parenting ideas I want to try (mostly a philosophical approach to answering some questions instead of being dogmatic--letting the child learn to be comfortable with questions instead of wanting answers all the time), but being a parent is the scariest thing in the world for me because you don't know what kind of soul you'll be getting and I believe that God always sends souls that have something to teach you (it's not a one way street of parent teaching the child) and it would be a nightmare to have a child with ADHD.

I don't want to have to be forced to choose between medication and having a child run wild. Seeing Will under the influence of Adderol made him manageable to be around, but he seemed like a zombie. His true personality was subverted. But I've also seen him without the medication and he's too much for me to deal with. It seems so unfair that many children are afflicted with this disorder, forcing parents to make these choices. It does make me want to learn more about what causes ADD/ADHD because I never heard of this until 1994. That was the year that Michael Faye, an American teenager visiting his father in Singapore was sentenced to receive four lashes of a cane as punishment for vandalism. Lawyers argued that he had "Attention Deficit Disorder" and I remember thinking what a big croc it was, that they would invent some new disorder to blame instead of the boy. But in the years since, I've seen a lot of kids and heard plenty of parents talk about their frustrations with ADD/ADHD. And in college, one guy in the dorms explained to me what it was like to live with ADD, so it got me fascinated to learn more.

One thing that really touched me last week, however, was that as I was laying on the couch massaging my temple to lessen the headache and hoping that another vomiting spell wouldn't hit me, the children of Frank and Jan along with the children of the family they were visiting were all at the dinner table eating. Little Will saw that I didn't join them and he asked me, "Eat food, Nick?" I was so shocked by that thoughtfulness. Here is a little kid with autism and ADHD, but as he's eating, he still has the consideration to ask if I wanted to eat. I don't know why his simple question touched me so much, but you just have to meet the little guy. He is a sweet kid and the question he asked me has endeared me to him forever. God bless him!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Milestone or Millstone?

A photomosaic of George W. Bush using the photos of servicemembers who have died in his illegal and immoral war against the people of Iraq.

On Easter Sunday, the 4,000th American became yet another casualty in Bush's folly of a war, another person with unfulfilled hopes and dreams to die for the vanity of the too proud to admit the truth and war evader Bush. A somber milestone for our country, but even more than that, yet another millstone around the neck of this reckless president that will sink his soul to the depths of hell when he passes over.

You might think that was a judgmental statement. Only God knows the fate of souls. I agree. However, hell has often been used by those in power to scare the masses in line. I believe hell was created as a controlling device. Wouldn't it be delicious irony if the only people sent to hell are the religious, political, and business leaders who abuse their power and cause untold harm to large numbers of people?

Since the mid-1990s, I have believed in the "Life Review" that all souls must endure at the end of their lives on earth. This is not punishment, but an assessment of how each person's every action has affected other people. Obviously, the more people you come into contact with, the more risk it carries...especially for those with greater responsibility and power. That means presidents are especially affected by their life reviews. The ultimate question is, did you affect more people's lives for good or for worse?

Obviously, a life review would be quite painful for the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein. That's a given. But what about someone like Bush? Not only will his real motivations for war be revealed in the heavenly realm, he will see the effect of his fraudulent war on the lives of the 4,000 (at the moment. Who knows what the final toll will be?!?) Americans who have lost their lives, the tens of thousands who lost limbs or suffered brain damage or PTSD, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives, and of course everyone else who has lost a friend, a parent, a child in this conflict. Can you imagine being faced with the dreams of those 4,000 who didn't live to see their lives play out? That you are responsible for ending their lives in a war you fought for material gain (a war of choice, not necessity). Bush won't be smirking when he has to face the truth of his actions without an ego to hide behind while the Christ he claims to worship stands next to him. That's the only true justice in our world.
Four years ago on this day, Bush showed a skit he had filmed for the annual Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner. In it, he was searching under his desk and behind the curtains in the Oval Office for WMDs, laughing and joking: "those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere!" It was the equivalent of a joke that OJ Simpson played on a reporter when he made stabbing gestures with a banana a decade ago. It's odd that the president could find humour in the biggest rationale he had to commit troops to a second war (when we were already in Afghanistan). Remember the fear mongering...that we had to act NOW because Saddam "had recently sought uranium in Africa" and we couldn't wait until the smoking gun was a mushroom cloud?

Many people died because of his decision to go to war and I don't see how he could make a joke about it. But then again, he made fun of the born-again Christian lady he had executed when he was governor, so we already knew he lacked compassion and good sense.

Bush voters, look at your boy sticking his tongue out at you. "Suckas!" He's laughing all the way to the bank. Who wants to be the last person to die in his war? Any volunteers? Come on! Your president needs you so his historical legacy will be salvaged.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Revisiting "the Passion"

On Good Friday, I watched "The Passion of the Christ" again. I hadn't seen it in four years, when I went to the theaters with a friend. I thought the film was good, though excessive in the violence, which is the primary reason why I never bought it on DVD, even the "edited version." I also didn't like the way Evangelicals flocked to this film, giddy about it's use as "the greatest missionary tool ever!" How they could view such a "snuff film" as the greatest missionary tool ever is completely baffling to me. Such depictions of violence wouldn't have much of an effect on Buddhists committed to non-violence. In fact, conservative Christians seemed proud of the fact that their Lord and Saviour was so brutally beaten, tortured, and crucified. Even director Mel Gibson bragged about how his hand made a cameo during the scene where a Roman soldier is putting a nail into Jesus' hand. Souvenirs of the movie included a replica nail hanging on a necklace for evangelicals to proudly display their "role" in helping to crucify Christ.

Before I get to my take on the movie (since I didn't have a blog when it first came out), I wanted to mention the uncanny dichotomy that occurred when this film was released. In fact, it almost seems divinely orchestrated to reveal how serious a disconnect Christianity has become from its origins. When "The Passion of the Christ" was raking in millions and millions of dollars (to over $300 million) in 2004, that same spring, news reports revealed the incriminating photographs of U.S. soldiers happily torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison where Saddam once did the same deeds.

Right-wing radio dismissed such acts as soldiers letting off steam, and didn't know what the fuss was all about, since those were "obviously terrorists" (though reports have it that many were just regular Iraqis routinely swept up in house searches with little evidence of terrorist associations). If there were any anger shown by the right, it was towards the soldier who turned in a disk full of photos to an investigating officer, with accusations of treason. Even I was shocked when I heard a church member dismiss such photos because "at least we didn't cut off their heads!" That was the best that could be said? And the person who said it also admitted to being teary-eyed at "The Passion of the Christ."

Man, such glaring contradiction really ticked me off like you wouldn't believe. I often get accused by pious Christians as being somewhat of a heretic (because I don't believe that Jesus's role was to be the Lord and Saviour we must accept to have eternal salvation and because I view his crucifiction as an example of his pacifism to not commit violence on others even to save his own life), but what baffles me about these Christians who claim to love and worship Christ is how they can't see the contradiction in front of them when the two were big news items in the spring of 2004. How can you condemn the Romans and Jewish Pharisees for torturing and crucifying their beloved saviour while at the same time dismiss the torture and humiliation and violence committed by our troops upon Iraqis (even if they are guilty of terrorism)? I simply don't get it. Why is one unacceptable while the other is easily dismissed? Didn't Jesus tell us, "That which you do to the least of your brethren, you do unto me"? Each time we torture someone, we are doing it to Jesus. And these pious Christians think it's okay because Jesus "died for our sins" so that gives us a license to sin since all will be forgiven in the end?

Talk about wacky theology! I'm amused that so many can believe that while rejecting my views as being heresy. But what good is it to believe that Jesus suffered torture, humiliation, violence, and the cross if we don't work to rid the world of violence and torture? Aren't we becoming the beast we accuse the Pharisees and Romans (and even modern-day terrorists) of being? Isn't it more meaningful to derive a different interpretation of Christ's crucifiction than the one we've been taught? Not that he suffered and died for the sake of our sins so we can have eternal life, but that he suffered and died because he was so committed to nonviolence that he wouldn't save his own life if it meant harming someone else. After all, he healed a Roman soldier's ear when they had come to arrest him and one of his disciples got a bit aggressive and cut it off. Isn't that an act of nonviolence we should heal, not to wound?

Now to the movie...

When it first came out, what pleased me the most were two points: That Mel Gibson wanted the actors to use the language of Christ (Aramaic) and the Romans (Latin) to give the film an authenticity we've never seen before. That was brilliant and I was excited for that point alone, to hear the language Jesus spoke (or the closest approximation we could get). The second thing I liked was that Jim Caviezel was chosen to play Jesus. When I had seen the film "Pay it Forward" in 2000 or 2001, I remember thinking when I saw Jim Caviezel (as a homeless addict) that he would make a great Jesus in a movie. Wow, talk about perfect casting!

Overall, I liked the movie, especially the all too brief flashback scenes (particularly the one where Jesus is making a table and laughing). I wanted more of those. In fact, when I left theaters, I felt that it should be made into a trilogy, in which the first part would be "The Life of the Christ" and the third part would be "The Resurrection of the Christ." Using the same actors, sets, and languages, it would make a great trilogy. To leave it as is, though, it's still hard for me to watch. The violence is just excessive and unnecessary. Gibson's whole point, however, was to induce guilt in followers who watch this film..."look at how much Jesus suffered for your sins!" That's not a good motivation for any kind of spirituality. Jesus was so much more than that. We need to see him inspiring people, healing people, leading people, laughing, playing with children, talking with women, joking with his disciples whenever they "don't get it." I want more of that in a film about Jesus.

The main controversy was about the way Jews were portrayed, but after watching it again, I still fail to see any anti-Semitism in the film. I think it's absurd sensitivity. It was historically accurate that the Pharisees (led by Caiphas) were the ones who wanted Jesus crucified for fear that he'd undermine their religious authority of the people. He was a real threat to their power. What's so anti-Semitic about that? In the modern day, if Jesus were to walk and preach in America, it would be Pat Robertson and James Dobson who would demand Jesus crucifiction today and probably a Jewish lawyer would defend Jesus from the persecuting Christians. Jesus is a threat to anyone who misuses power to control the mass of people. Jesus would be a threat to our "so-called Christian president" George W. Bush. It's a timeless struggle between oppression and liberation, between authentic spirituality and a controlling religious authority.

What I didn't like about the film (besides the violence) was the appearance of Satan. Especially making him to look like some androgynous freak-show like Marilyn Manson. It distracted from a film that strived to be as historically authentic as possible. And it served no purpose, other than to connect Christ's passion to the Adam and Eve story (I assume that's the sole purpose of the snake that Jesus stomps on in the beginning of the film).

It's been four years since this film and where are we on the morality scale? Our nation seems to be worse off. We, as a nation, have had many opportunities to show our commitment to Christ (since so many love to claim that we are "the most Christian nation on earth") but we failed in New Orleans when Katrina hit, we continue to fail in our Middle East policies, our economic policies, our domestic policies. For those Christians who believe the whole salvation story of Christ's crucifiction, if they still support Bush because they believe him to be the most Christian president we've ever had, I kind of feel sorry for them. They don't truly know Christ like they claim to. Christianity is more than profession of a belief you've been taught to believe by some religious authority. It's about bringing the life, mission, and message of Christ into our everyday world and nation's policies. To this day, I fail to see the values of Christ embodied in our government's actions around the world and to its own citizens. I don't expect our government to be an advocate of any religion, but it is quite disturbing that some Christians truly believe our government is representative of their Christ. That, to me, is scarier than any terrorist attack.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oregon is Obama Country

The big news Friday was Senator Barack Obama's visit to Portland, Salem, and Eugene (followed by a Saturday morning rally in Medford). I didn't know about it until too late, but I got struck with the flu on Thursday afternoon, so I wouldn't have made it anyway. Besides that, when I went to his first rally in Portland last fall, I was one of the last people to get into the Oregon Convention Center and that was packed with 4,000 people. This time, his rally in Portland brought out nearly 13,000 people. Obama-mania has certainly grown with a few victories and the joyous news that our late primary still matters.

His speech was aired live on TV, but I was drifting in and out of sleep (trying to get over a bad vomiting spell). Part of his speech appeared in my dreams as a Sam Adams speech. How's that for weird psyche?

The biggest news is his endorsement by former presidential candidate Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico. Wow, who would've thought? If Hillary does manage to win the nomination and the presidency (a super long shot at this point, but who's keeping track?), you can bet that Bill Richardson will not be a Secretary of State or Vice President in her administration (unless she is more forgiving than reports have her). Or perhaps he has seen the writing on the wall and realized that there wasn't a chance in hell Hillary will get the nomination based on delegate count and popular vote count. If she wants the nomination at this point, two things will have to happen. One of them would be a repeat of 1968, the other would be a repeat of 2000 (when the person with the popular vote lost out). Either way, it doesn't bode well for the Democratic camp if they subvert the people's choice.
Obama has come off a rough week, with the controversy surrounding the pastor of the church he attends (Trinity United Church of Christ, I believe it's called). The pastor, Reverent Jeremiah Wright, has made some inflammatory statements, such as calling the USA "the USKKKA" and of saying "not God Bless America, but God damn America." The controversy plays well in the heartland because people are scared of black anger, especially the lingering anger over slavery, segregation, and chronic racism. Obama had no choice but to give a speech on religion and race this week and he managed to give one of the best speeches of his life. All I can say is, wow! He nailed it on the head. Because his heritage is both black and white, he is the perfect person to bridge the racial divide to explain the views between the two races in regards to religion and racial issues.

In my last job in Atlanta, one lady I worked with harboured a hatred for white people. She attends a church like Obama does. I'm sure that her pastor has said similar incendiary things about white people in her church. We've talked about it some, but when we did, I could tell that she was very careful about what she said. She spoke with a kind of restraint, perhaps hoping that I'd "get it" even if she knew that I never would, because as she said: "it's a black thing. You wouldn't understand."

But I understand. I've seen how segregated society has warped countries like South Africa and the USA. I know that affirmative action doesn't go far enough to even the playing field of centuries of discrimination. But neither do I support reparations for slavery, because no one alive today was ever a slave (although slavery does exist today in other forms and other countries, but that's a topic for another day). My view since childhood was that slavery happened. It was an unfortunate practice that displaced a lot of people. There are things we can do to equal the playing field (integrated schools, scholarships, affirmative action, government investments in economically depressed neighbourhoods and minority-owned businesses) but we can't undo the slave trade. Besides, because of the pains their ancestors endured, they have a better life today in America. Most African nations are suffering from poverty, disease, corrupt governments, tribal clashes, and crushing foreign debts. Life in America is far better for most people than life in Africa, so why continue to harp on the past? That's my view. But I guess that's the perspective from a man not beholden to his ancestors. All I know is that I'm grateful for the forces that brought me to where I am today. How can I fault anyone for that? How can we move forward as a nation when a group of people still have a deep-rooted hatred of white Americans and what our ancestors did to their ancestors centuries ago?

In other news, right-wing radio mocked the Obama rallies in Oregon as nothing more than a big cult-gathering. Even callers to these talk-shows expressed their disbelief how so many people could be caught up in "Obama-mania." But they sounded jealous to me. Gee, is Obama-mania such an aberration? I remember in 1999 and 2000, conservatives were all goo-goo eyed over George W. Bush like he was the second coming of Reagan. They glossed over his record and believed in him like some messiah who would save their party from another defeat. So, they must be so disappointed and wise now. And jealous because their party doesn't have a charismatic figure to call their own. It's hilarious to hear these people (who all probably have a shrine to Reagan in their homes) harp on Obama-mania as some cult-like affliction people have fallen prey to while ignoring their own obsessive worship of Reagan and George W. Bush.

Why Obama? Why now? Obama could've only happened because of Bush. He paved the way. Americans always look for the opposite in their next president and Obama comes across as articulate, smart, sincere, and charismatic...all qualities Bush lacks. Most of all, after the past seven years of cynicism, Americans are dying for some good old American optimism and inspiration again. That's why Obama-mania is sweeping the country.

My prediction is that if Americans vote for another Republican president, it will seal the end of the American dream. Our nation will collapse far worse than the stock market crash of 1929 and the following Great Depression. And who will celebrate such a collapse? China, Iran, and al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden's goal was to defeat the two evil empires: the corrupt communist Soviet Union and the corrupt capitalistic United States. Another Republican president will give him his dream. Barack Obama would be his worst nightmare come true. Because the world will celebrate the inauguration of the first black American president in ways we haven't seen since Nelson Mandela's inauguration in 1994. So, let the Obama-mania roll on until the White House!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Adams and Dozono Sho(w)

On Thursday morning, I attended a debate at Portland State University between the two front-runners for the Portland mayoral race, City Commissioner Sam Adams and travel agency owner and popular businessman Sho Dozono. It was billed as the first official debate (though I read about one that occurred the previous day in which the candidates kind of got personal, to which an audience member had to request both to knock it off). The turn out was pretty good (especially since it competed with PSU's first ever appearance in the March Madness playoffs, unfortunately against #1 ranked University of Kansas--my dad's alma mater and the team I'm predicting to win in our office pool).

The most notable thing about the debate was that as Sam was answering a question, Sho's cell phone rang. Sam, always with the quick and clever wit, stopped what he was saying to ask, "is that your cell phone?" which got some laughs, followed by another: "is Rudy's wife calling you?" which got even louder laughs. He was momentarily distracted before continuing to speak on environmental sustainability. It was a brilliant move, I thought. What's even worse for Sho Dozono is that when he was answering a question later on, his cell phone rang AGAIN!! He apologized, saying that he thought he had turned it off last time.

One of the panel of questioners had asked Sho a question and when she wasn't satisfied with his answer, she said, "you didn't answer my question..." I thought that was great of her to say that because he seemed distracted the whole time he was up there. He even had the gall to say that Portland should model itself after Kansas City! Has he been to Kansas City?!? My church is headquartered in Independence (the town next to it) and even though I love our church properties and the downtown of Independence, I could never live there because I hate Kansas City. It's a drab city. Kansas City needs to model itself after Portland, not the other way around. If Kansas City even looked like Minneapolis, I would've probably moved there, but there's nothing special about the city. I only go there to attend my church functions in Independence.

Anyhow, the debate turned out well for Sam Adams, I think. His summary statement was right on target. He confessed to being a political wonk as people often accuse him of, and he rightly pointed out that if elected mayor, he would be our wonk, working on the issues to make Portland a world-class city we'd all be proud to live in. He also alluded to the disasterous Bush administration when he cleverly pointed out that we've seen what happens on a national scale when we elect people who don't have experience in government, who come from the business community thinking that they know how best to change things.

In the debate, Adams couldn't ask for a better opportunity. His opponent was distracted (with cell phone calls and not answering questions with specifics) and if he's that way in his campaign, how on earth does anyone think he'd be better as mayor?

More bad news for Sho came today in which he has lost public financing for his campaign (because he had failed to report a $27,000 poll as an in-kind contribution). He has indicated that he might drop out of the race. I personally think he never had the passion for it, so that's probably a great idea.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Remembering the Greatest Experience of My Life

That's my "official Navy photo", taken at Basic Training in April 1991.

Seventeen years ago, I left home for the first time to begin my Navy adventure, starting with the dreaded basic training. I had delayed my departure date for as long as I could when I signed up. I enlisted on June 19th, 1990 with a report for duty date in May 1991, but after a three week trip in January to visit my best friend Nicholas Smith in Omaha and my grandparents in Atchison, Kansas, when I returned home, I moved up the date by two months because I knew I was psychologically ready for it.

How did I psyche myself up? By watching "Biloxi Blues", reading "Letters Home From Vietnam", and watching Vietnam War movies. I later learned in Boot Camp that other guys had prepped themselves by watching "Full Metal Jacket" (which I didn't see at the time). So, I wasn't the only one who turned to movies to get an idea of this closest thing to a male initiation rite into adulthood.

When I was in Basic Training, I kept expecting it to get worse, but even the worst wasn't as bad as I had envisioned it to be. It was probably one of the few times when I lived completely in the moment, finding enjoyment in such things as marching with the unique cadence calls (my favourite part of the experience, I might add).

People seem shocked whenever I tell them that Basic Training is the greatest experience of my life. And to this day, I've only had one experience that comes in a very close second (my White House internship and the BYU Washington Seminar). The reason I place Basic Training so highly on my list of life's experiences is because it was a liberating experience for me.

For those who know me well, I have an older brother (14 months older than me) who is developmentally challenged. Our parents pretty much raised us as twins and even held him back a year so we would be in the same grade together (though never the same classes). Growing up, people thought we were twins and I hated it. My strong sense of individualism was probably in rebellion to the way our parents raised my brother and I. Even when my brother and I were apart (occasionally different schools), people would often ask me about my brother. I grew up in his shadow and never was allowed to be an individual, and it had stunted my growth. I was tired of being considered "half a person" whenever my brother wasn't around (like we were supposed to be Siamese twins).

Basic Training changed that. For the first time in my life, I felt complete freedom. I know that sounds ironic, considering how every minute of your day is controlled by the Navy's agenda, but for the first time, I was known for me and me only. No one would compare me to by brother or ask about him. It was just me and people getting to know me for me. It was like I joined a fraternity and got 80 new brothers for the 9 weeks we endured together the "cycling" (intense exercise routines used as punishment for violations), the marching, the anger issues, the victories (such as our company winning the Cheerio Flag for our training group's sports day), and the drills. For over two months, we were unaware of the news of the outside world and it felt strangely liberating.

When it was over, I went home on leave and when I went into my old bedroom that I had last occupied only 9 weeks earlier, I felt different and didn't know what to do with myself. I was alone for the first time again and didn't know how to occupy my time. That was a strange experience, but I adjusted. In the years since, whenever I listen to the music that we heard for the first time in Basic Training (like Extreme's "More than Words", Rick Astley's "Cry for Help", and Garth Brooks "Friends in Low Places" to name a few), I'm transported back to those days when I experienced my first liberation from the shackles of youth to the freedom of being my own man. The experience was an emotional high that still gets me to this day. And it goes to show that while others might view it as a negative experience, it is what you make of it. However nostalgic I am about it, though, there's not a chance I'd want to do it again from the place where I am now. When I was in Boot Camp, I was 19 with the majority of the guys being in my age bracket. A few were in their 30s and they had the roughest time of all. Basic Training is definitely easier to experience when you go straight from your parents home instead of when you've lived on your own for awhile.

It's an experience I wish more people could have. It has been a blessing in my life. I don't know if I'll ever experience something like that again, but experiences are different and that's a very good thing.

The pictures below I got off of Google, so don't be looking for me (though we did wear that uniform on our Pass In Review day).

The Navy Chapel at RTC Orland, Florida, which was a uniquely designed building and the site of some good musical uplift each Sunday for the challenging week ahead. The base closed sometime in the mid-1990s, so now all Navy recruits do their time at RTC Great Lakes, IL, which is quite brutal in winter. At least I got to experience the balmy Florida weather with it's daily shower at the same time each afternoon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years of Shuck and Jive

Don't cry, George! You only have to endure 307 more days before you can go on permanent vacation to vegetate!
On this day five years ago, the resident Bush decided to launch the most expensive and disasterous sequel ever concocted in U.S. Motion Picture History: The Gulf War II. Many people speculated on his unspoken, ulterior motives...which Republican operatives claimed was treasonous to do so (even though they were all too willing to claim that Clinton's desire for military action in Kosovo in 1999 was to distract Americans from the Impeachment trial).

But I knew when Bush announced a run for the presidency, way back in 1999 that his whole entire reason for running for president was to avenge his father's defeat in 1992 and to finish the job his father didn't "have the courage" to finish. Neo-conservatives wanted the elder Bush to march to Baghdad after liberating Kuwait after 100 hours of launching the ground war in 1991. But the elder Bush, always the diplomat, ended the war for reasons well stated in a book he later wrote. Full disclosure: I was one of those who wanted him to continue to Baghdad to dispose of Saddam. It simpy didn't make sense to me to call Saddam "worse than Hitler" then leave him in power. But when the elder Bush said his reasons why (that the coalition would fall apart, the U.N. wouldn't support it, and that the cost in dollars and lives to occupy Iraq would not be worth it in the long run), I respected his decision. He is the consummate diplomat, after all. Interested in foreign relations and the reason I admired him more than I did Reagan.

I know that it's such a cliche to say that I knew this Bush would invade Iraq if he became president, but I did and even told people in the summer of 2000 that if Bush becomes president, there was a 100% guarantee that he would invade Iraq. It was the safest bet one could make. Some might say that it seems obvious in retrospect, but it was obvious in 2000 as well. Anyone who voted for Bush in either 2000 or 2004 does bear partial responsibility, even if they now claim to have never supported his war in Iraq.

From the day he slithered into office, through 9/11, and then the anti-French insults in the lead up to the Iraq War, it was ugly Americanism unleashed at levels I had never seen before. So much hatred towards Arabs, the French, Democrats and peace advocates. It was some of the saddest and darkest days in our country's history at least in my lifetime. And all of it was egged on by neo-conservatives, fundamentalist Christians, and the purveyors of propaganda (like Rush and Coulter).

Bush even dared to violate a principle his father never did: play politics with a war vote. This Bush made the vote to invade Iraq happen before the 2002 mid-term elections. The Senate's strongest advocate against the war was "conveniently killed" in a mysterious plane crash (that would be the honourable Paul Wellstone of Minnesota), that was an eerie deja vu of another Senate candidate dying in a mysterious plane crash in 2000 (Mel Carnahan of Missouri, who still managed to defeat Senator Ashcroft from the grave).

Worse yet was the Senate campaign in Georgia, when draft-dodger Saxby Chambliss aired television commercials showing images of Osama bin Laden followed by Saddam Hussein followed by Senator Max Cleland (who had lost three limbs in Vietnam, a war Chambliss avoided as a young man). The implication was clear: Senator Cleland was in cahoots with terrorists. He lost the election and that defeat was also a dark day in American politics. I was never too fond of Cleland myself, because he was too conservative for my tastes, but I did vote for him because the alternative was far worse. Cleland is an honorable man and that ad against him is one of the worst I had ever seen. That only showed how manichean and Machiavellan the conservative right is.

I'd even go so far as to say that the conservatives who put Bush into power and sold the American media and populace on war in Iraq are some of the most psychopathic people our country has ever seen. They should be institutionalized in padded rooms. The elder Bush had referred to them as "the crazies in the basement" with all the schemes they had concocted in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Consider this...the war is now five years old. World War II didn't even last that long. Nor did the Civil War. For those who had babies when the war started, those children are now getting ready to start Kindergarten in the fall. It began with 80% of Americans believing that Saddam Hussein was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, even though it has been discounted so many times by numerous sources like the Department of Defense, the CIA, and foreign intelligence agencies in the years since. No matter. Bush wanted his Iraq War, once even claiming that God had told him to invade Iraq and who was he to disagree with the creator of the universe!

The picture above is from the early days of the Iraq War, when Americans were so intoxicated by our military might to wreak vengeance on an Arab nation for what they "did to us" on 9/11. Old Rumsfeld (all swagger, possibly to make up for his short-comings elsewhere) even introduced the most vile catch phrase into the American lexicon: "Shock and Awe." That was the military strategy: to unleash such firepower on an impoverished, developing world nation that they would be shocked into submission, unable to fight back against the terror of American military might. The phrase brings to my mind the Nazi strategy that they called "blitzkrieg", which means "lightning war." The goals were the same: to so shock the people of the country they invade that the war would be over quickly.

How about a new phrase to replace it? Instead of "Shock and Awe", I hope historians will choose a similar sounding wordplay when they write about the disasterous war: "Shuck and Jive." That phrase conjures up a whole host of different images, namely the minstrel shows of yore. Back in the day, white people would attend such entertainment in which white actors wore blackface and used all manner of stereotypes to portray black people.

Since the Republican Party carries on the tradition of the minstrel show today (what with their National Conventions in which there are more black people on stage than on the convention floor trying to sell a false image of the party being a big, inclusive tent when in reality, it's nothing more than a rich and crusty white party with racist and xenophobic attitudes), it makes sense that they should own the term "Shuck and Jive." That's all this war has been. The war pushers are shucking and jiving the American people, saying its about one thing (first WMD, then when none were recovered, it was about liberating the people from Saddam, to now being about preventing al-Qaeda from having a base of operations in which to plot terrorist acts against the U.S., even though al-Qaeda didn't exist in Iraq until we deposed Saddam), when everyone knows it's all about control of the oil fields as we reach peak oil with major rival China wanting in on the deal.

So, on this fifth anniversary of the war, if you supported it for whatever reason but are now against it, you have a far greater responsibility to let your views be known, especially to the people in power. This war isn't going to end on its own. Heck, John McCain said that we'll be there for at least a century. Is that what you want for your great-grandchildren's future? And if you supported this war, are you happy with the way it turned out? Are you happy with the costs? After all, the neo-conservatives sold this war as "cheap", with Iraqi oil paying for the costs. It's approaching $3 trillion. Would you have supported this war if you knew it would cost that much? I don't think any American would. But that's the thing about war. It's always a pandora's box with so many variables that could go wrong. Any shuckster who claims that you can wage a war for cheap with minimal loss of life should be seen for what he is: a lying charlatan.

When historians write about this time in our nation's history, I'm fully confident that it will be considered the biggest strategic disaster in American history. This war, in the end, will be viewed as the undoing of American power and the start of the Chinese Century (with Chinese banks lending money to the American government to fund the war, they will make a killing on interest payments when our great-grandchildren start paying back the balance due on this debt). So, on the fifth anniversary, I hope Americans will finally wake up and realize that the Republican party deserves nothing less than to be voted out of office for decades to come. They have brought nothing but misery and ruin to much of the planet's population and given Americans nothing in return but debt, a faltering economy, struggling schools, a dismal job market, and financial catastrophe in business and the housing crisis. The cartoon below shows exactly what this war of choice has brought our country:

Happy Anniversary, America!

If we want a better future, it makes no sense to vote Republican in November, no matter how honorable John McCain is as a person. The Republicans inherited a surplus and an economic boom in 2000. What have we gotten in return? Absolutely nothing to be proud about, that's what!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Buddhist Uprising

Another promise broken. I know, I know...I promised to devote Tuesday's posts to the Sam Adams campaign as I blog about various topics regarding his plans as Portland's next mayor. However, we still have 9 Tuesdays until the primary election and that's plenty of time to devote to various issues in the race. Besides, the campaign will roll out several policy plans/briefs starting next week at a press conference I will be attending. On Thursday will be a debate at Portland State University between Sam Adams and his main rival, Sho Dozono.

In the meantime, there are a lot of things I wanted to write about with all the news items lately, though I might not get to all of them...such as Geraldine Ferraro's reemergence from political obscurity to show how not-so-well she has aged. What a "where are they now? political edition" embarrassment, eh? She dares play the race card where Bill Clinton had failed. Hillary can't distance herself from her surrogates any longer. She seems hellbent on destroying the Democratic Party...if she can't be the nominee, she's running as though she doesn't want Obama to have a shot either.

However, in other news, there are several articles that now say that over 100,000 Republicans in Ohio and 114,000 in Texas had crossed over to vote for Hillary in an attempt to help the Republicans in November, as they are deathly scared of Obama (gee...newsflash, a Republican scared of a black man! Such a cliche). Rush is absolutely giddy to see the Democrats working hard once again at self-defeat because that's the only way a Republican can win these days (since the issues certainly aren't winning over new voters or a clear majority). Why Democrats love to play into Republican strategy is truly baffling to me, but Queen Hillary does give off the vibe that if she can't be the nominee, she'd rather the party self-destruct than help to defeat the Republicans.

Beyond our narcissistic politics, the most fascinating news item for me is another Buddhist uprising, this time in Tibet against the godless capitalistic Chinese government. I have no idea if they were influenced by the Buddhist uprising in Burma last year, but I wouldn't be surprised if the moral courage (despite facing torture, death, or imprisonment) of one group of Buddhist monks influenced another group to make a stand against another brutal and repressive regime. Something does seem to be stirring in our planet's atmosphere. We've recently seen people rise up in Pakistan against the corrupt military junta of Musharrif, and the Buddhist monks rising up in Burma, and now Tibet. When will the American people show such courage? Why don't we rise up and demand that members of the Bush Administration be impeached, removed from office, tried for treason and war crimes? What are we afraid of?

Our economy is tanking. On several news channels tonight, including ABC's "Nightline", they actually brought up the dreaded D-word. The latest crisis on Wall Street (Bear Sterns) has caused pundits to drop the "Depression" word. Wait a freaking minute here. Just a few weeks ago, they were talking "stagflation", now they are worried about a Depression? What the heck is going on in our country?

I'm hopeful and optimistic because in some spiritual books I've read, once we entered the Age of Aquarius in 2001, the next millennial cycle is about secrets being revealed. It's supposedly going to be harder for people to hide things. That's the true definition of what "apocalypse" means. Truth gets revealed. Like a New York Governor's sex problem. Like the massacres going on in Tibet as in Burma (first thing both countries did was shut down the Internet and especially YouTube). The world is watching. Government controlled media can't keep the truth hidden from view in the age of YouTube.

Why should we care about Buddhist monks in China (or Burma)? Because we need to recognize authentic spirituality and side with them over oppressive political systems which does not care about individuals.

As a teenager, when my dad made me attend evangelical youth group meetings, one of my deep resentments about the whole evangelical/fundamentalist mindset is the way the "evil" label is so easily applied to anyone or any belief that didn't originate with their Christian traditions. Calling Buddhists evil was something that bothered me a great deal because I never felt that the religion was evil. I failed to see evil in Buddhist ideas. And then there's the whole problem of "forbidden fruit." Whenever you tell a teenager not to do something, he's definitely going to be drawn to it. Secular music and Buddhist ideas were my rebellion against these judgmental evangelical types.

Though I will likely never be a Buddhist in this lifetime (only because of my loyalty to the faith I was raised in, which thankfully isn't evangelical in style or beliefs, though some members try to push it in that direction), I stand with them, I read books about Buddhist beliefs or ways of living/being, and I'm meditating. I'd even go to Buddhist temple occasionally. Why? Well...there's an interesting thing about being in the presence of a Buddhist monk. Everytime I'm around one, I automatically feel a sense of peace come over me. It's the presence of mind that I feel. Just like how you can walk into a room where an argument had occurred and know that something negative is lingering in the air without knowing the details. So, how can a person who brings on feelings of peace ever be mistaken for evil?

It only happens among people who have a shallow understanding of spirituality. To these people who think Buddhists are evil, I'm sure that they probably couldn't care less what the Chinese or the Burmese do to these monks who dare make a stand. Those people probably also think Bush is the greatest Christian who ever lived. Their worldview is influenced by the people in power rather than finding common ground with the powerless the world over. That only tells me that they don't know Christ at all. He never sided with the people in power if they abused that power. He even said that it was the meek who would inherit the earth, not the arrogant.

So, if you're one of those who haven't found a common spiritual bond with the Buddhists, I urge you to do so. There's nothing in Buddhist philosophy that is in any way incompatable with the teachings of Jesus. And besides, when I look at what's going on in the world today, it is the Buddhists who are taking the kind of risks Jesus asked of his followers...while Christians are either complacent in our accommodations with power or we're conned into thinking that our national leaders truly represent Christ's mission and teaching on earth. So come on, let's drop our prejudices and join in arms with our Buddhist brothers and sisters!

Monday, March 17, 2008

An Act of God?

The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts of "Cabbagetown" that I had often dreamed of living in when I passed by it on the MARTA train between downtown Atlanta and the suburbs where my parents live. These lofts were always more than I could afford, even though the neighbourhood was kind of sketchy.

Interesting photo of a staircase at the Georgia World Congress Center after sustaining flood damage in Friday night's freak tornado that tore through downtown Atlanta.

Today's post was going to be about Ireland or something that ties in to St. Patrick's Day (like if I'm lucky to have a son someday, I'd like to name him Patrick, my favourite male name that I almost wish was mine), but as I watched the evening news on Saturday (and I rarely watch news on the weekends, but wanted to see how much of the peace rally and march that the local news would show and report on), I was shocked to see images of my former home...Atlanta looked like a warzone! In odd news, a tornado ripped through downtown on Friday night around 10 p.m., hitting several buildings, including CNN's headquarters (with its attached hotel), one of the huge lighted columns at Centennial Olympic Park, a few other buildings downtown, and even the loft apartments I had often wished that I could live in whenever I saw it as I passed by on the MARTA train between downtown and the stop closest to my parents house (Indian Creek). Wow. Tornadoes are rare, especially this early. In all the years I lived in Atlanta, I didn't think it was possible that a tornado could rip through the downtown because I thought skyscrapers affected the wind patterns, but so much for that theory.

With all the reports of wacky weather we've heard in recent years, sometimes I wonder just what it's going to take to convince more and more people that climate change is a reality and it is our over-production of wasteful consumables and our increasing use of fossile fuels that contribute to the mess we're in. Weather seems to be just one trick in Mother Nature's arsenal to fight back. We shouldn't just look at examples of wacky weather, but even something like the increase in poison ivy growth. My parents' backyard is overrun by the weed. My dad says that poison ivy especially thrives with an increase in carbon dioxide. As they say on "Star Trek", it's useless to resist. Poison Ivy has become the plant equivalent of the Borg for our backyard (which is pretty forested, which I liked as a teenager because it meant less lawn to mow).

Last year, Georgia's bubba guv'nah Sonny Purdue called on religious people to pray for rain to end the devastating drought that put Atlanta's lack of visionary city planning into a crisis of almost Biblical proportions ("where there is a lack of vision, the people perish"). But that's just the first warning of the future our planet faces. Even the Pentagon is worried that wars of the future will be over WATER, making our current oil wars look like childish fights over toys in a sandbox. With the latest disaster befalling Atlanta, it makes me wonder what the bubba guv'nah is concocting now. He's often tried to portray himself as Bush's best buddy and in Georgia (at least when I left for good in 2006), it's still Bush country.

Check the photos below. It looks like a warzone to me. I was shocked when I saw these photos online at the Atlanta Journal Constitution website. If I didn't know better, I would've thought these were pictures straight from Baghdad. It makes me wonder if people will ever make the connection. We, in America, are so lucky that much of our misfortunes are weather related (as we've seen with New Orleans after Katrina, the floods, mudslides, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes that wreck havoc every year). But what if these natural disasters are karmic retribution for the death and destruction we cause other nations like Iraq? It's easier to forgive Mother Nature for her wrath, but are conservatives near the point where they can forgive the perpetrators of 9/11? How many more people must we kill to get our "vengeance"? How many more ruined lives, destroyed buildings?

Seeing the photos of Atlanta after the tornado hit, I can't help but connect the two. Insurance companies have an "acts of God" clause in the policies, seeming to acknowledge the divine right to make a mess of the things we build up. On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, I can't help but think of the interesting coincidence that an unheard of tornado in March touched downtown and ripped through the headquarters of the Cable News Network. If that's not a sign from God, I don't know what is. Perhaps God is also unhappy with the media's complicity in selling this war to the American people, and this rare tornado is His warning shot against a wayward nation that is (as Dr. King warned in the 60s) fast approaching spiritual death.

The Headquarters of CNN and its attached hotel

Downtown Atlanta after Friday's freak tornado blazed through town like a drunk cowboy

Is this Baghdad? Nope. It's a building in downtown Atlanta.

Downtown Atlanta with Centennial Olympic Park in the background

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Retro Groovy

Friday night, my friend Christine and I went to the Doug Fir Lounge for dinner and the Retrofits concert. Neither of us had been in there before and I have passed that location several times and didn't even know it was a music venue. The Doug Fir is a restaurant, bar, and lounge next to a 1950s style Jupiter Motel (with interesting choices of lights, which was blue on this night). The whole place has a retro 50s vibe (conjuring up images of the Rat Pack, Tiki Bar culture, and whatever else that decade offered up as "hip" and "cool"). I'm generally not a fan of 50s architecture because it was too squarish and plastic with an attempt to look "futuristic" but actually looks dated. However, the Doug Fir Lounge has such a cool vibe to it, you can't help but like it tremendously. It's like stepping into a retro world, where you can leave the present behind and just experience a different era. I love such consciousness-altering atmospheres!

The dinner wasn't as good as the menu description, but I'll be back for another meal sometime as there were other items I wanted to try at reasonable prices.

The main reason we went was to see the Retrofits concert, of course. I discovered the Retrofits just last year (September, I think) when they sang at Jeff Merkley's campaign kickoff. I normally don't follow any local music scene (not when I lived in Atlanta and not since I moved to Portland), but I was surprised when my feet moved in spite of myself and as I looked at the people waiting around for the politicians to come out on stage and introduce Jeff Merkley, everyone was moving to the rhythms of this band I had never heard of. They were actually good. They sang about five songs or so and I liked all of them. None were covers of famous songs. This was all original music written by the band themselves. To their complete brilliance, they handed out free sampler cds of four songs, which I got one. It only took a week or so for me to decide to actually buy their cd, "Away From Here" and I've pretty much listened to it nonstop ever since.

I'm just completely baffled how they could have recorded such a "perfect album" for their debut. Music doesn't get any better than this! Why they haven't been discovered by mainstream radio or have their songs featured in films for mass exposure is beyond me. Their music is just too good to be missed. I'm an instant fan and I really want to see them hit the big time. I've had enough of talentless hucksters making shoddy products that's overproduced and instantly forgettable. When something refreshing, timeless, and just plain good comes along, it only makes me appreciate the discovery even more. If they do make it big sometime, I can finally say that I heard of them when they were just another Portland band. When I lived in Georgia, I knew people who became fans of REM and the B-52s when they were just local bands playing the clubs in Athens, Georgia. Those two bands' success have become Georgia's pride and joy in the world of music and its time for Portland to claim its own.

The Retrofits music style reminds me a little of Ben Folds Five, but as much as I liked Ben Folds Five (and their cd "Whatever and Ever, Amen"), they weren't nearly as impressively good as the Retrofits. Its rare when I can say that I like every song on a cd, but the Retrofits have managed to do it with their debut cd. How they did it remains a mystery to me. After listening to their cd pretty much nonstop for months, I just had to see them live the next time they played in Portland.

The concert brought out a few politicians, like John Branam (running for Sam Adams' City Commissioner seat) and Sho Dozono (Sam Adams main rival for Mayor), which Jake Oken-Berg (the keyboardist and lead vocals) had introduced at one point in their set. A word about Jake Oken-Berg. At the age of 19, he had run for Mayor of Portland in 2000 and received 26% of the vote (if I remember correctly an article I read). Though I'm glad he formed the Retrofits and hope he finds greater success in the music industry, he hasn't given up politics. He's currently part of John Branam's "think tank" and he introduced a political song at the concert (though I couldn't hear the lyrics over the music).

They sang some of their new material, which has more of a rock sound than the songs on their cd. It'll take some getting used to, but it didn't help that people in the audience tended to talk during the new songs. I'm glad that they performed a lot of songs from their cd, because they have an infectious rhythm that hits you at the soul level. You simply cannot listen and not be moved on your feet. I'm serious when I say that as much as I love music (my true addiction), I have rarely heard anything as good as the Retrofits debut cd (and you know my tastes, or if you don't, check out the sidebar where I list my all-time favourite cds and songs).

They played a good set, interspersed with interractions with the audience (at least half of whom, I suspect, are friends and family of band members). I liked it when Jake said that he heard that there was a party in some room at the Jupiter Hotel after the concert, to which Jordan (the bass guitarist) replied: "Yeah, in my pants!" Like I hadn't heard that joke before, but it got a laugh.

My favourite moment came when the band had a disagreement about the next song they were performing. Jake reported that the drummer Brud said to him, "you're not actually going to perform that song are you?" It made me curious what it was. They had to call another band member back to the stage (he had gone off to get a drink) and when I heard the melody, it was vaguely familiar. It couldn't possibly be...? And it was! They sang a cover version of Toto's "Africa" and it was pretty decent. I don't know what was so embarrassing about it. I liked it and the audience seemed quite pleased with it as well.

The show lasted about 90 minutes, which was pretty good. They're doing a short tour of the Pacific Northwest (their national tour was last summer). So, those of you in Seattle, I recommend that you check out their show on Friday, April 11th at the Skylark Cafe (it'll be a free event that day).

If any of you are interested in hearing the Retrofits and they aren't coming to a concert venue near you anytime soon, listen to song clips on and let me know if you want their cd. I'd love to send you a copy if you'd like to hear this awesome band. Their rhythms will hit your soul like you just don't know. They are the perfect musical sunshine of happiness in a city known for endless days of rain.